The Difference We Make

A Village Full of Heart

Our story at St Anthony’s Family Care (SAFC) first began in May 2020 when our first child, Isabella, was 18 months old and started attending Figtree Early Learning Centre. It was at the height of the COVID pandemic and while this was an overwhelming time within the world, the SAFC village and team at Figtree helped create a sense of safety and security within the community we were joining.

Shortly after joining St Anthony’s, in June of 2020, we found out that our second child would be born not only with Down Syndrome, but also with a significant congenital heart defect. When we arrived at the ultrasound appointment the technicians were very quiet as they looked at the scan. My husband and I knew they were going to say that the scan had shown that something was not as it should be, and we prepared ourselves. A Genetic Counsellor took us to a private room and explained that the scan, not only showed a high nuchal fold (thickness at the back of the baby’s neck), a small baby for his age and other markers for Down Syndrome, but our baby also had at least two holes in his heart.

We were advised that since we were seeing this at such an early stage of pregnancy (11 weeks), the baby was likely to have other health problems too. We were presented with a long list of statistical medical conditions that are more common in people with Down Syndrome and were told that our baby had a 1 in 3 chance of miscarriage or stillbirth. If by some miracle, our baby did survive the birth, there was a good chance he wouldn’t live very long and would likely need immediate surgery to try and repair the damage to his heart.

To say that we were filled with grief and sadness is an understatement, but we decided to proceed with the pregnancy wondering what this would mean for our family.
When our son was finally born in December 2020, we named him Theodore which means “Gift from God”. Teddy, as we affectionately call him, was truly our little miracle but the challenges of having a son with Down Syndrome were only starting.
At a scan when Teddy was two months old, we found out things were much worse with his heart than first thought. It was at this time that the support and well wishes from the SAFC community really helped our family. The Figtree staff were quick to offer additional days of care for Isabella, so she could continue to thrive and develop alongside her friends with a sense of security and routine, while we took the extra time needed to care for Teddy.

SAFC was also kind enough to cover the fees during this time, through their Mary MacKillop Canonisation Fund, which significantly helped our family financially at this time.
Following successful heart surgery in April 2021 we were able to start making longer term plans for Teddy. The one decision we never had to struggle with as a family was where Teddy would go for childcare. From the minute we knew our son had Down Syndrome, we began speaking to the team at Figtree and were always reassured that Teddy would not only be welcomed with open arms, but also fully included in the programs offered at the centre. Something I have since discovered isn’t necessarily true for many other families who continue to face barriers in accessing inclusive early childhood education for their child with a disability.
Since starting at Figtree in January 2023, the staff at Figtree Early Learning Centre have been magnificent. To assist Teddy with communication, the staff are now learning Auslan (sign language) so Teddy can make his wants and needs understood.

The team have also taken the time to meet on many occasions to help ensure the learning environment offers Teddy everything he needs to flourish.
Teddy loves spending time with his peers and excitedly falls out of my arms and into the welcoming hugs of the Educators each day he attends.
As we plan for Teddy’s future, we look forward to a partnership with the SAFC community as we help our son learn to take his first steps, communicate effectively, feed himself and continue developing relationships with his peers and carers.
We sincerely thank the SAFC and Figtree community for their ongoing support and look forward to a bright and happy future for both our children and whole heartily agree with the SAFC tagline ‘it takes a village to raise a child’.
– Louise Burke
(Teddy and Isabella’s Mum)


Peers & Play

St Anthony’s Family Care (SAFC) has been a vital part of the community for over 70 years and the childcare centre has been it’s longest running service. While programs may have changed to better meet community needs, SAFC’s commitment to supporting children and families has been unwavering and remains core to our mission.

In 1974, St Anthony’s began providing childcare services to families living in Croydon and the surrounding suburbs. Children of parents needing relief were welcomed, with first priority going to poorer families who needed the additional support offered by the Sisters of St Joseph.

By 1979, St Anthony’s Home had obtained a licence to operate a childcare centre and services formally began.

After many years of service and following feedback from the community and parents, an inclusive early childhood service began in 2007 when the Special Preschool and the mainstream childcare centre were merged.

Over the past 15 years, the Early Learning Centre has evolved and continues to work towards providing programs that acknowledge each child’s strengths while also helping to support the development of new skills, particularly where children have a diagnosed disability or developmental delay. This support is provided through the ‘Peers & Play’ program.

The Peers & Play program helps to ensure that children receive the additional support they require so they can actively participate within the mainstream care environment and learn alongside their typically developing peers.

This year Figtree Early Learning Centre has been delighted to welcome back the Ahmed family. In
2017, SAFC first met Lana Ahmed who had been referred to St Anthony’s after it became clear that she was not reaching her developmental milestone and required the additional supports provided at St Anthony’s.

Lana had been diagnosed with a Global Developmental Delay (GDD), and in partnerships with her family and other allied health professions, work began to help strengthen Lana’s motor skills, communication, and self-help skills.

During the 3 years that Lana was part of the Peers & Play program she was able to make significant progress as she developed the ability to feed herself independently, began walking and was able to communicate choices with support. St Anthony’s was also key in helping to ensure Lana was able to experience a positive transition to school so that her education could continue as she moved to kindergarten.

When the Ahmed family recently discovered that their son, Mustafa, also needs additional support, they knew exactly where to go to find the help needed. Mustafa’s mum contacted the Manager of Figtree Early Learning Centre and enrolled her son.

Now within our brand-new state of the art childcare centre, the Figtree team is working in partnership with Mustafa’s family to support him to achieve his individual goals while at the same time having the opportunity to make those important connections with children his age.

For many parents, Figtree Early Learning Centre is the preferred service as families have confidence that programs offered can meet the needs of their child through dedicated educators working in partnership with families.

St Anthony’s and Figtree are proud of both our achievements to date and our commitment to the ongoing support of children with disabilities as they participate in the Peers & Play program.

This program is only possible due to the support of our donors and benefactors as the cost of the additional staff required to meet the individual needs of children is met through your generous

Teresa Petrone
Manager Early Learning Services