Patterson: Leaders of special note

31/01/2017. Melton/Moorabool Star Weekly. Foster. Issue Date 07/02. Barb and Bob Paterson won the Access and Inclusion Leader of the Year Award at Melton Councils Australia Day Awards. They've been fostering children with special needs for the past 20 years. Picture Melton City Council.

It all started with an advertisement in a local paper – a beautiful four-year-old girl with a gorgeous smile looking for a permanent home.

The moment Barb Patterson laid eyes on Sam (not her real name), she fell in love. How can you not, she says pointing to a wall full of Sam’s photos: “Just look at that happy face.”

That was 22 years ago. Since then, Barb and Bob Patterson have fostered another three children with disabilities. They’ve opened their hearts and home to help the “child beneath the surface” shine through.

“You just stared into those little eyes, and this supposedly vegetative child (Sam) was really there,” Ms Patterson says. “And she was just this tiny little precious poppet.”

In 2010, while the Pattersons were also caring for a boy called Max (not his real name), Sam died. Two years later, Max lost his battle, too.

Ms Patterson says they decided not to go on fostering children – after all, they had been full-time carers for two youngsters for 17 years.

Their retirement lasted a month.

“We felt that Sam and Max taught us so much … and that disability was just a word. We found out who they were, and we found the child within them,” Ms Patterson says. “We learnt so much medically, and so we had that skillset given to us as well.”

The duo, with the help of their children and grandchildren, are now caring for two siblings who are full of life and “cheek”.

“They have such character and personalities.”

Their generosity not only earned the Pattersons Melton council’s 2017 Access and Inclusion Leader of the Year award, but a special place in their grandchildren’s hearts.

Riley, 12, wants to be “exactly like grandpa”.

“They’re doing a great job for families who don’t have the same privileges as us,” he says.