Sue and husband Neil Coutts have fostered over 60 children in 26 years, and have a strong desire to support kids with special needs. Based in the Hunter region, the couple are full-time carers, following several years of self-employment in small to medium business.
Despite having three biological children of their own, the Coutts see fostering as an important part of looking after their community. They are currently long-term carers for three children, including adopted son, Russell (8) who has Down Syndrome and was placed in their care at three months old.
The Coutts family had also adopted Sarah, who had extensive medical issues including Down Syndrome and a heart condition and came into their care as a baby. Tragically she passed away at age 14 in 2010, as a result of her heart condition.
“These kids need someone who will speak for them, advocate for them, and be their voice,” says Sue.
“What’s not important to others, can be huge for them.”
Sue is a passionate advocate for societal inclusion, particularly for those with disabilities. She made headlines in 2009 for enduring a two and a half year battle with the Dept of Education, petitioning for Sarah to stay at her inclusive Martins Creek School.
“The support from the community was overwhelming,” says Mrs Coutts.
“People rallied around us, submitted letters - many were doctors and specialists - they were all vocal about their support for Sarah”
“In the end, Sarah was granted permission to stay at her school until age 18.”
The option was staying at her school, or being homeschooled, and Sue was adamant Sarah be granted as much ‘normalcy’ in her life as possible.
“I didn’t want to take away her ability to socialise, she would sometimes go to a friend’s house after school, and as parent this required me to build trust with other families.”
There is still a photo of Sarah on the noticeboard at her school.
“This doesn’t come with a manual, it can be challenging, but fostering a special needs child and continually advocating for their needs is incredibly fulfilling, and you grow with them.”