BEN and Ria Merito have already seen remarkable growth in the three girls who came into their care about 18 months ago.
The Ocean Reef couple shared their experiences as foster carers ahead of an information session in Joondalup next week, where they will be available to talk to people interested in becoming carers.
They became carers in early 2016 and looked after some boys short term, who were then reunited with their family, before the three sisters arrived for a weekend of emergency care.
That turned into long-term care and the girls, now aged 6, 5 and 3, are still living with them full-time.
“The highlights are seeing their development,” Mr Merito said.
They have been able to give the girls many first experiences, such as going to the beach and going to school.
Mr Merito said it was rewarding watching them grow, and the girls could now talk, helped by speech therapists.
One of the girls recently won a cross country race, and this month the family will do the City to Surf 12km run together, with the youngest child in a pram most of the way.
“When they first came to us, that’s one of the things that they loved to do was run, and that’s what we all do as a family,” Mr Merito said.
He is a teacher and Mrs Merito is a nurse, so both had seen children experiencing difficulty through their work and felt they could do something to help.
“I have kids in class that come from bad backgrounds or challenging backgrounds,” he said.
“We put our hands up to be foster carers.
“We just decided that fostering was a path that we would like to do.
“We didn’t know a lot about fostering before going to an information session ourselves.
“We just saw a need; we had a gut feeling that drove us to go and find out a bit more.
“It’s different from being in a classroom environment.
“There’s a lot of emotional need.”
From the day the girls arrived, they have called their carers “aunty and uncle” and formed an immediate attachment to them.
“The challenge is knowing what they have been through, seeing what they have been through,” Mrs Merito said.
“That’s also the motivation to keep going, even when it’s tough.
“It’s not really about us; it’s the children that are vulnerable.
“We focus on the need and what we can do every day for them.
“It doesn’t matter if they are our kids or not our kids; we can’t help everyone but everyone can help someone.”
The couple said helping children in care improved the future for both them and the wider community, ensuring stability.
“We all live in the same community and in every community there are going to be kids who need help,” Mr Merito said.
“It’s not only for the kids; we’ve got a lot out of it too.”
The couple said while they were busy running three businesses and managing four properties, they had not found it difficult to make time for the children.
They said the support provided by the Department of Communities (formerly Department of Child Protection and Family Support) included ongoing training opportunities, follow-ups and development therapy services for the girls.
“There’s a whole network that works around each sibling group (or child) that comes into care,” Mr Merito said.
The department will host the information session on Wednesday, August 23 from 6-8pm at 8 Davidson Terrace in Joondalup.
Anyone interested in finding out more information can attend and no registration is required.
Joondalup district director Ben Whitehouse said the department was looking for committed people who were willing to open their hearts and homes to care for children and young people in need.
“At our information session, we will run through what it’s like to be a foster carer, and the support and training opportunities available,” he said.
“We would like everyday people who are able to provide a safe and stable home on a temporary or permanent basis to come forward.
“Foster carers come from diverse backgrounds and socio economic groups, and can be single men or women, married or same-sex couples, with or without children, or young or old.”
In the Joondalup district there were 314 children in care on June 30, including 129 Aboriginal children who are cared for by relatives, a member of their Aboriginal community or other Aboriginal carers wherever possible.
When Aboriginal carers are not available, the children are cared for by local foster carers.
“Children are our greatest asset and many lives have been turned around because of the dedication and support offered by their foster carer,” Mr Whitehouse said.