There are few young people better prepared for the unique challenges of motherhood than Laura*.
At 21 she became the legal guardian of four relatives aged from 11 to a few months old.
Despite her youth, Laura fought for the children to be in her care rather than separated with different foster carers.
In difficult moments she drew on the strength developed during her own upbringing in foster care.
“You’ve got to be very understanding,” she said.
“It’s definitely hard, there’s no lying about that, but it’s worth it.
“Sometimes these kids can’t say thank you, sometimes they can’t be appreciative like that, but they show you in their own little way.”
Laura and her partner Matthew* recently welcomed their first son, four years after becoming foster carers.
They agreed the experience had made them more appreciative of the responsibility they share, and of the ongoing support they receive from caseworkers.
The couple is supported by Marist180, a Blacktown-based charity now looking for more foster carers.
The charity has set the goal of offering a caring home to 20 teenagers by Christmas.
The challenge comes as new data reveals children in out-of-home care now number 18,659, an almost 60 per cent increase in NSW in 10 years. The issue is particularly acute in western Sydney.
“New South Wales is facing a really significant problem,” Marist180 foster care manager Hayley Clisby said.
“We need more people to consider taking on a foster child, particularly those aged eight to 18.”
Ms Clisby said while not everyone is suited to caring for a young child, a wide variety of people including singles and empty-nesters could look after a teenager.
The organisation also offers training and financial support for those willing to invest in the “hugely rewarding” challenge.
“More needs to be done to help young people in need and we need more foster carers to help change a life,” Ms Clisby said.
“To break the cycle of disadvantage, we must challenge the idea of what it takes to make a difference in a teenager’s life.
“Not all foster carers are the same – and you might be the solution to the foster carer crisis.”
To find out more about becoming a foster carer, call 9672 9227 or go to the Marist180 website.
*Names and some details have been changed to protect the privacy of children known to Family and Community Services.