Stacey Bourke looks down into the eyes of her five-month-old baby boy and all you see is love.
The beautiful little boy is the latest of 31 foster children Mrs Bourke and her husband Steve have taken into their Serpentine home since 2014 — and his beaming smile says everything about the nurturing he has been fortunate to find.
Mr and Mrs Bourke are two of the State’s local heroes being recognised by The West Australian in the lead-up to WA Day on Monday.
After bringing up their own three children, now aged 24, 20 and 17, Mrs Bourke felt she had an abundance of motherly love still to give and reached out to the Department for Child Protection.
The couple has three children under the age of six in long-term placement at their home and have had up to eight at one time.
They have been aged between 13 years and just four days old.
But their commitment to providing care for the children who need it most is at times as heartbreaking as it is heartwarming.
“It can be soul destroying,” Mrs Bourke admits, tearing up as she describes the way some of the foster children have come to her family.
Their first foray into foster care came with a three-year-old boy who was in a world of trouble.
“He had black eyes and a burn mark ... he was a broken little boy,” Mrs Bourke said. “He went around the first night and locked all the doors before he went to bed. It was devastating and a huge eye-opener. He didn’t know what baths were and he didn’t know what healthy food was.
“It was all chips and nuggets and just single finger foods. He was just so damaged and no kid should ever endure that trauma in their life, ever.”
The boy stayed for a week before going to live with his grandfather and the Bourkes had their next new child the following day.
Two other siblings they had taken in, aged two and one, had wandered into a service station at 2am in their nappies. It was later found their mother was in hospital with mental health issues and their father had not seen them leave their home through an open door.
“In the early days, it could be fairly traumatic,” Mr Bourke said. “You get really attached to the kids and then they’re gone. But ... if we didn’t do it, who would?”
Mrs Bourke said growing up in Kwinana had exposed her to troubled youth problems and instilled in her an empathy once she became a parent. Foster parenting then became a natural progression.
“The first week is always the hardest because the kids don’t know what to do or why they’re here,” she said. “We even had one boy who was constantly flinching because he didn’t know if he was going to get hit and that’s quite depressing.
“But you bring up these kids as your own and then you have to let them go. That’s the fostering journey and if I had a bigger house, I’d have 10 more ... I love it.” Many of the Bourkes’ foster children have been Aboriginal. Mrs Bourke said she took part in fortnightly Aboriginal culture awareness classes and had built a bush tucker garden to ensure their children grew up positively connected with their background.