Life was one long sleepover. So recalls Sal, 29, of her experience as a foster sister to the numerous foster children who came and stayed on the family farm outside of Newcastle, when she was growing up.

Though they had four children already, Sal’s parents David and Jenny, wanted to open their home to vulnerable children and give them a chance to have a good life. Sal was just seven when her parents decided to foster and she recalls being excited at the idea of having kids come over.

“We lived on a farm and there weren’t a lot of other families close by so it was more kids to play with!”

She became close to a number of the girls the family fostered, in particular Daria* who was just a year older and came to them when she was 14.

“The mischief we’d get up to. I am surprised my mother is still sane after our nonsense. One time I had a fight with my mum about some T-shirt I was wearing and Daria turned on me and said ‘Stop fighting with her! If I had a mum like yours I would never speak to her like that.’

At the time, I brushed it off, though it definitely made me stop and think about what I had said and how lucky I was.”

Occasionally, she admits, she’d get irritated by the foster children. “It was never about toys or sharing things. We kids never minded sharing with the foster children. It was time with parents. You’d want to talk with your parents about something you considered important and one of the foster kids would be having a traumatic time.

There were some things that dad and I would do together, just the two of us, that I always looked forward to and I used to hate it when the foster kids would be hanging around trying to get his attention as well. It would really bug me, but after awhile I began to realise my own problems were pretty trivial compared to what some of these kids were going through.”

Years later Sal realised what a great thing her parents were doing for these kids and was happy to learn that some of the kids had gone on to make good lives for themselves.

She still has a foster brother at home whom she dearly loves. “He’s been with us since he was a baby and I adore him. Now that we are all grown up and out of the house, my sister Jilly and I take him for holidays and my brothers, who are still at uni, come home to hang out with him.”

Being a foster sister definitely helped Sal to develop compassion, patience and understanding for those less fortunate than herself.

Fostering has also helped her to manage colleagues in the workplace. As a project manager for a mining company in the Northern Territory, she works with a lot of men and can identify certain behaviour patterns learnt from these experiences. As a result, she recognises the early signs of aggression or anger, and is quick to work through any problems with them.

They respond surprisingly well. “My life as a foster sister prepared me for the wider world. It has helped me to relate better to other people who aren’t as lucky,” she says.