MERCURY SERIES - Making A Difference
Nanny Nette reckons she has the biggest family in the Illawarra.
Nanny Nette (real name Annette) is a disability pensioner who has taken in 67 foster children since her husband Brian died in 1995.
She describes herself as "a hug therapist and smile therapist who loves children".
But Nanny Nette does not see herself or the work she does with CareSouth as anything special.
She says ordinary people like herself make the best foster carers because they have great empathy.
And for those who do give it a try she says it can change their lives forever.
"I love it," she said.
"I have a lot of their photos down my hallway. One of my case workers a few years ago called it the 'wall of love'. I look at it every day and I remember every one of those kids. They are fantastic memories."
In her lounge room there are also pictures that foster children have painted of their Nanny Nette.
"I keep doing it because I have seen the difference it makes in the children and the difference it makes in my life as well," she said.
She recalled once having two little boys and seeing their delight when she bought them each a basic lunch box and school bag so they could be like all the other kids at school.
"They couldn't believe it and they insisted I put their names on the lunch boxes and they slept with them under their pillows so nobody would take them away," she said.
"To see them understand they could be the same as other kids was amazing. To see kids who are frightened about meeting [someone] and don't know what is going to happen to them suddenly start to relax, smile and blossom and return a hug is just the biggest thrill."
With a shortage of foster carers in the region, Nanny Nette encourages others to consider contacting CareSouth and giving it a go, even if it was providing respite care for a child on one weekend.
Whenever she opens the door to a new child, her first goal is to make them feel welcome.
She thinks being small in stature has helped because the children, who are often uncertain about what the future holds, don't feel intimidated by her in any way.
"I always make sure I wear a shirt with a teddy bear on it and a plate of chockie biscuits and a drink on the table and toys appropriate to their age ready when they come in," she said.
But, despite all that, there have still been some challenges.
Nanny Nette remembers the first baby she took was affected by drug withdrawal and screamed 24 hours a day until she discovered playing Hi5 on TV helped the screaming stop.
"I don't know if it was the colour or the music or what it was," she said.
"But it still took four months until we saw a smile on that baby."
Her only regret after taking in 67 children is that she did not start doing it sooner while her husband Brian was still alive.
"My husband and I could not have children, so we always talked about fostering.
"But it was one of those things we always put off because we thought we would get everything else done first."
For more information on foster caring go to www.caresouth.org.au or phone 1300 554 260.