A newborn baby in desperate need of a home, dropped off in the middle of the night.
Rachael Clancy takes the baby in her arms, calls it her own and embraces it with love.
That’s the life of the 32-year-old foster mum, and, while what she does is remarkable, she says she doesn’t know any different.
“My family started fostering when I was 11 and, growing up, we always had kids coming into the family to stay permanently,” she said.
“For me, it was a privilege to do that journey with the kids, I’ve always wanted to adopt a child later in life.”
But that time came sooner than expected, when, at 28, a little girl found her way into Rachael’s heart and home.
“They were struggling to find a home for a beautiful little girl, so I took up the challenge, moved out of a share house with all of my friends and moved into a house on my own and started the life of being a mum,” she said.
She later took in that little girl’s sister, and together, they made a life with Rachael for two-and-a-half years.
“That was an honour being their foster mum, they called me mummy,” she said.
“They did everything, cheer, dance, they were very happy and doing very well – one of them got to compete in nationals for cheerleading and then they were restored and left my care.
“It’s very hard saying goodbye but it’s a blessing what you’ve been able to give them, and they always bring something to your life too.
“I’ve had such a great experience of getting to have a supportive relationship with their biological parents, now they’ve returned home I still get to stay in contact with them and they still call me ‘mummy Rachael’ or ‘mumma bear.’”
What makes Rachael’s journey so incredible is that she’s juggling life as a foster mother while studying for a degree in psychology.
“It was obviously challenging on my own, but I don’t know any different and, to me, they were my everything,” she said.
Her passion and drive stems from the rewards she gets from nurturing those in her care.
“It’s amazing getting to see the transformation of a child who’s struggling and no-one could cope with, to getting them to the point where they show some sense of attachment to you, like the first time they want to run up and give you a cuddle and it’s a genuine cuddle that they’ve missed you,” Rachael said.
“That’s huge for a kid that’s been through what some of these children have been through and, to me, that’s worth more than anything.
“I don’t care I don’t have a husband yet or can’t work full-time because I’m doing this with the kids.
“If this is what I’m brought into the world to do, that’s what I’m happy doing.”
After witnessing so many children enter foster care, many with just the clothes on their back, Rachael took it upon herself to start an initiative that would give them a sense of self-worth and pride.
“Growing up, I constantly saw kids coming to my family and they’d literally have a plastic bag with holes in it,” she said.
“I saw kids coming into my care, with the same scenario 20 years later, and I thought: ‘These kids deserve better than this’ and it just clicked one night.”
So, Rachael started ‘Hope in a Suitcase,’ where she buys suitcases and fills them with essential belongings before delivering them to agencies, the John Hunter Hospital and Maitland Hospital, ensuring no child goes into foster care without items to call their own.
“I do it for the practical reasons, so they have clothes, toys, toothbrushes and hairbrushes, but I do it for the bigger message,” she said.
“You can see a huge contrast between a kid turning up to a new family holding a plastic bag to a child turning up with their own belongings and feeling they are worthy enough to have their own things.
“I have a strong belief every child deserves to be loved and feel worthy and, if I can give a little bit of that to a child, I’m the lucky one.”