“She was very angry and couldn’t control her own behaviour. She’d have tantrums like a two-year-old, and then would hide to avoid being punished,” Routh recounts.
Angela could barely read, and had difficulty interacting with other people.
“She was doing first things as a nine-year-old that we would regard as a normal way of life. She’d never been on a bus, ferry, she couldn’t differentiate between a horse and a cow. She didn’t have any toys and had never been to the beach or the pool.”
Routh and Gilbo are one of a growing number of same-sex couples fostering children in Australia. In 2012, the Benevolent Society in NSW and Berry Street in Victoria actively started targeting LGBTI people as foster carers, seeing the community as a previously untapped source for loving homes.
This week, a children’s book about a same-sex foster families was released, telling the story of Jesse, a young girl who goes to live with foster carers Tom and Jake.
Titled A Place in your Heart, the book is intended to give foster kids a chance to see and read about their own family situations.
“I have about a decade’s worth of experience as a foster carer myself,” she says.
“My life’s work is about empowering children to be co-creators… I have an understanding that a lot of children fall through the cracks and I think it’s very important for kids to have a voice.”
Marie Wheatley, director of Fostering Young Lives, hopes the book will assist with the settling in process for children being fostered in same-sex homes.
“When a child is removed from their family, they’ve experienced a lot of trauma, and it can be hard to adjust to living in foster care,” she says.
“For many of these children, they may have never encountered same-sex couples, so we wanted to help children understand the diversity of families and for them to feel OK and safe.”
Most states allow exemptions under anti-discrimination law for religious foster care providers, meaning they are able to turn away same-sex carers at will.
Just under two thirds of the same-sex couples surveyed in the research also cited fears of a negative reaction from the foster child’s biological family.
Existing stigma towards same-sex families in general compounds this hesitation, with couples banned from adopting in Queensland, Victoria, the Northern Territory and South Australia.
In South Australia, lesbian couples cannot access artificial reproductive technologies such as IVF. Altruistic surrogacy is also illegal for same-sex couples in Western Australia and South Australia, with no relevant legislation in the Northern Territory.
However, Routh and Gilbo have had very few negative experiences since they started looking after Angela.
“When we first started primary school there were some raised eyebrows, but never directly,” says Gilbo.
“More often than not, people have been really quite open and wanting to know more information about fostering,” adds Routh. “They’ve asked questions about it, but nothing negative I think.”
But four years later, the worried, tense face she wore as a nine-year-old has been replaced by a shy smile.
“It makes you realise how much kids like her had missed out on,” says Routh. “I wonder about what track her life would have been on if she hadn’t come into foster care.”
“She’s got new experiences, she’s more confident, she’s doing things that she… is it awkward me talking about you like this?” Routh asks Angela, who is listening.
They all laugh, and Routh continues: “She’s growing in so many different ways and it is really nice to see that.”
“It’s priceless to watch her laugh and enjoy her life like any other child.”