Aside from their own nine children, the Rollings have fostered 48 others over decades

Julia Rollings

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr presents Julia Rollings with the 2020 ACT Local Hero award. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

On Julia Rollings' left forearm there's a tattoo which encapsulates her philosophy about the many foster children which have passed through the door of her Tuggeranong home and left again.

The inscription on the tattoo reads "worth the grief".

It depicts a dandelion with its seeds scattering in the wind and then at the wrist, the seeds morphing into joyous bluebirds flying off in different directions.

The tattoo helps answer the obvious question she is asked many, many times: how can she foster all these children, invest in them so much of her emotional energy and love, and then give them up again?

It's because, she says, every single child who arrives on her doorstep - although some have stayed - is worth all the pain that rips at the hearts of herself and her husband, Barrie.

Julia Rollings was recently bestowed with the ACT's 2020 Local Hero award and will represent the territory in her category in the national awards next January.

While she considers the ACT award an honour, anyone who spends time in her company as she nurses her latest foster child, a baby with a very rare medical condition and special needs, could be forgiven for thinking it is hardly enough.

Aside from their own nine children - seven adopted and two biological - the Rollings have fostered 48 others over decades, many of them in emergency situations.

While the shortest duration has been just days, the longest brought the fostered child into the family forever.

"Sometimes I'll just get a call out of the blue to check our availability and if we can take the child then of course, we will," Mrs Rollings said.

"We have a nursery set up and crates of baby clothes of different sizes because sometimes the child or baby arrives with nothing but the clothes on its back.

"We had three kids come to us from the same family who were meant to stay just for the weekend and they were with us for several months.

"The eldest of the three children, Stephanie, who was only 11 years old at the time, steadfastly refused to leave us. So she became part of our family."

Sometimes it's an emergency action by ACT Care and Protection, at other times the child comes via ACT Together, which provides out of home services for children and young people across Canberra.

A number of people perform this role but it's the Rollings' unstinting willingness to take on the most difficult cases - the children with special medical needs or who have suffered trauma - that makes them so valued.

They have cared for children with cerebral palsy, those born with a drug addiction from their mother, and premature twins with Down syndrome.

Julia and Barrie Rollings remember every single one, particularly those who came to them hurt and broken and over time, were slowly mended.

"You have to get attached to the children because that's what builds trust and connection," she said.

"If a bit of my heart doesn't go out the door when they leave then I'm doing them a disservice."

She strongly encourages more people to consider foster care.

Carers receive a modest financial subsidy to cover costs but it's rarely enough if the child arrives, as they sometimes do, with very little.

(This article first appeared in the The Canberra Times)

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