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Late one night in 2014, unable to sleep, Ajda Turkay did what any typical 23-year-old might do – she pulled out her computer. But what she did next is far from typical.
She Googled the phrase “foster care”.
“I think the second link was Wesley Mission, so I clicked on to it and asked for an information pack. At that stage I didn’t know what to expect, I thought I was going to get a letter in the mail or something. But within 24 hours I had a phone call,” she told Mamamia.
Just seven months later, with no children of her own, no experience even looking after a child full-time, Ajda became a foster carer.
“I was obviously really nervous before my first child came,” she said. “I thought that it would be really difficult and that I wouldn’t be good at it. But the moment the child came that changed. She was just, you know, a normal child. She just wanted to play.”
Now 26, Ajda has provided emergency care for dozens of children, answering late-night phone calls seeing if she can provide a bed for a young person who’s been stripped from their own. It’s usually babies and toddlers, and usually just for the night or two, but sometimes they’ll be with her for longer if it’s a desperate situation. She currently has a nine-year-old who’s been with her for three months.
Ajda’s the first to admit that it can be difficult to manage – she works six days a week running her Melbourne hair salon and travel company. But she draws on help and support from her partner and mother to make it happen.
“The thing that keeps me going is the turnaround,” said Ajda. “The children come to your house and they’re so traumatised, so scared and they don’t know you. Most of them have just been ripped away from their parents, from their home, and within that first 24-48 hours there’s a change that you see in these children. They start to become so positive and so happy, because for once in their life they have a safe place.”
Ajda and her partner Shane. Image: supplied.
When you hear Ajda's story, it's tempting to think about it in terms of her age, to think 'What an impressive young woman'. But she doesn't see it that way at all.
“I mean, if I don’t do it, who’s going to do it? That’s the way I look at it," she said.
Adja is one of at least 290 Wesley Mission foster carers, who between them are proving temporary homes for more than 580 vulnerable children. Of course, there are thousands more placed through other organisations. In fact, according to government statistics from 2014, there were at least 43,009 Australian children living in some form of out-of-home care.
“I can average two children a night sometimes. There’s that much need," said Ajda.
While most of the child's details remain confidential, Adja is usually given some indication of what's brought them into foster care, and overwhelmingly, she says, it's related to domestic violence.
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“These children are subjected to and confronted with things that any little child shouldn’t be seeing," she said.
“Most of the children come quite traumatised and have a pretty dark background, but I think that’s what motivates you more to look after them, to do as much as you can for them."
It's about making them comfortable, about building trust with them, about showing them the kindness and attention that may have been missing from their lives.