On ﬁrst meeting, Melissa Hunt’s bright eyes draw you in. Then you notice her beautiful smile. However, once you get chatting, you realise it is her warm heart and open mind that make her one of the Manning’s most valued treasures.
Mel wears many hats. She is the principal of St Joseph’s Primary School in Wingham, a volunteer at the Taree Community Kitchen, a budding tap dancer and enthusiastic bushwalker, loving mother and wife, as well as a foster carer of more than 10 years.
“Our family has opened our home to 47 children in that time,” Mel says, “it has enriched our lives enormously.”
Mel’s family includes husband David, their two biological sons Lachlan, 21, and Mitchell, 19, and two girls who will remain in their care long term.
“We love to help our community by providing a safe space for children who need it,” she says. “Children in foster care often don’t feel like they belong anywhere. Their life can be really, really hard.”
Mel says her experience as a foster carer, and principal, has shown her that children who have been removed from their parents due to fears for their safety and wellbeing often put on a brave front, but underneath are battling the effects of trauma.
“We just hope when they come to our home that they have a nice time,” she says. “We eat meals together and show them what family life can be like.”
Mel and David’s calling to become foster carers came just over a decade ago. At that time, their youngest son was nine years of age, and an extended family member had a child removed from their care, which really hit home for the couple.
Knowing they had time and space on their side, Mel and David spoke to a friend who was a foster carer, and shortly afterwards made the life-changing decision to become carers themselves.
“It took about 12 months to go through authorisation process, and as soon as that was completed, we welcomed the ﬁrst child into our home,” Mel says.
The family now primarily provides emergency care. Mel says she can’t bear to think of children sleeping in hotel rooms with caseworkers night after night due to a chronic shortage of carers.
“The quicker these children are in a home environment, the better their short and long-term outcomes.”
Asked about the concept of love, Mel’s bright eyes well up with tears and her voice begins to shake.
“I never expected to love the children who come into our care as much as I do, but it just happens,” she says.
“The children need someone to love them unconditionally, and they love you back.”
It is this unconditional love, along with continued support and unwavering patience, that Mel says helps the children reach their potential.
“When children are in a stable environment you can see them grow in conﬁdence and become happier. It enables them to begin to heal from the trauma they have experienced.”
Mel recognises the important role the children’s biological family members can play in their lives.
“It’s important those family ties are nurtured, as it is part of the children’s life story and helps them to form their identity.”
When children come into the Hunts’ care, the family love to take them exploring.
“Ellenborough Falls and the Manning River provide great opportunities to get amongst nature,” Mel says, adding a drive to the beautiful beaches in nearby Forster makes a great day trip, which almost feels like a mini holiday.
“I’ve learnt so much about our land from the traditional owners, the Biripi people, who have been so generous in sharing their cultural knowledge.”
Mel says the support of the people in Wingham sustains her – the St Joseph’s Primary School community in particular.
“St Joseph’s has a real family environment,” she says. “We all work together; staff, students and parents. The kids love learning and coming to school each day and the parents are so supportive. It’s a great place to be.”
National Carer’s Week runs from 10 to 16 October.
Lizzie Snedden is the editor of Aurora.
Republished with permission from the April 2021 edition of Aurora, the news publication of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.