THE babies recovering from drug and alcohol addictions have stiff limbs and their screams sound painful. The older children hoard biscuits in their pockets because they're used to making three days' food last a fortnight.
Jen Borelli takes these kids into her home in Victoria and has been doing so for 12 years, after she realised what was happening to young people with nowhere to go.
As a teenager, she volunteered in a boys' home and was "amazed" at how many children were all alone. Some had committed crimes, and some simply didn't have parents or anywhere else to live. "That was really disheartening to see," she told news.com.au. "It was always going to be my future, when I was able to own my own home, to open it to kids."
Jen, 49, now has three grown-up children and has cared for at least 30 foster kids, from babies to teenagers. "[Newborns] come to us once they've been weaned off those heavy drugs their bodies have been exposed to," she said. "It's amazing what having nurturing can do for their brain development.
"You listen to their cries and their joints are very sore, they have stiff limbs, they're not cuddly babies ... it's a painful cry, they're in pain."
Some of the children just come to her for emergency care, but many stay for up to 18 months. Jen and her teenagers grew adept at cuddling and soothing traumatised babies and reassuring troubled older ones that someone was there for them.
"It's hard to get placements for teenagers," said Jen. "They come with their little issues. I've had children come in who have to have food in their pockets, it might be a little biscuit pack, they have to have that because they often haven't had that before. One little boy, he was fed on pension day and for two days after and then for the rest of that fortnight he was scraping for food. He learnt to put food away, and he was six years old. He learnt to survive.
"Then they come to you and it's not an easy habit for them to break, it's a comfort for them. I've had children who've come in riddled with headlice, or fleas, I've had children who self-harm, children who've had nightmares. It's very sad."
Many of them arrive aggressive and swearing, and Jen says she has seen evidence of "horrific" physical and mental abuse and neglect, with children not eating or going to school.
"Some of them lash out, the only way they know how to express themselves is to lash out," she said. "They can be quite reserved, it takes time to gain trust.
"You get kids who either are very overly affectionate or you get kids who are very much the opposite. That's always hard to crack, but it doesn't take long for a little touch on the back or holding hands to cross the road and eventually they'll give you a cuddle"
Jen says most difficult behaviour fades away with time. Not-for-profit youth homelessness organisation Kids Under Cover helped her manage having foster children as well as her own teenagers by installing a bungalow that provided a retreat for those who wanted some peace and quiet.
"It was a godsend," she said. "Babies definitely take over home and when you've got teenagers who are trying to study and other children you need that quiet space to get away.
"The biggest thing is not to overwhelm them and not have huge expectations. It's just about being patient, about keeping your eyes open and giving them that space and that safe place."
There are far too few carers in Australia, which Jen believes is down to "financial stress", with foster parents receiving around $280 per child per fortnight and often having to pay for medicine, doctors and new school uniforms. "There's so much, it's never enough," said Jen.
One of the most disappointing things for her has been not hearing about her charges after they leave her care, or not knowing when they have returned to care. "I'm not sure what the flaw is, whether it's record-keeping or there's not a facility," she said.
Kids Under Cover today released a report showing that for every dollar invested in preventing youth homelessness over the last six years, $4.17 was returned in social value to the justice system, health care system and society as a whole - $63 million in total.
But CEO Jo Swift said the organisation continues to struggle to secure consistent government funding. "We support young people most at risk of becoming homeless due to overcrowding, family conflict, mental illness, housing availability and affordability, or a combination of these factors," she said.
"We've actively prevented a new generation of young people sleeping rough, and becoming the next visible face of homelessness.
"We welcome thisreport as it shows that the benefits of our work extend far wider than that - directly saving the community money, and freeing up resources."
At the moment, Jen has two children aged five and 10 in her permanent care, and a 16-year-old girl she is fostering. Her own are 23, 22 and 18 - but she doesn't have any plans to stop in the foreseeable future.
"We live in a bubble. We're only exposed to it on the news and the minute you turn the news off you've forgotten about it. That took a lot of getting used to.
"Selfishly, it's about me knowing I've at least got that one child I've brought into my home that's sleeping safely, that's being clothed, that's being fed, that's a good feeling," she said. "But it's just about the kids, making sure you're doing your part to keep as many children as we can off the streets."