Challenging, ever-demanding yet immensely rewarding. I’ve been fostering with Fostercare UK for almost 3 years and have not regretted it!
It is hard work and exhausting! Every day is different and sometimes unpredictable! Many children who are in care for a variety of complex reasons don’t often have simple routines such as reading a story together or being put to bed with a comforting chat. Being able to provide a loving and stable home with simple opportunities such as the child being able to do homework in peace or be involved in planning for a family or school outing is priceless!
Fostering has always been a part of my family. Although my parents weren’t official foster carers, they always found ways to give back to the community and always offered help and shelter to those in need.
We were brought up to share our “rizq”, the Arabic word for wealth. It doesn’t just mean sharing of money, it also means the sharing of wealth such as knowledge, privilege, opportunity, well-being, food and shelter and much more.
While I came from a wealthy family, I was always taught that I was privileged and to act with integrity, compassion and humility. It was important that we used the wealth we had to offer help to anyone regardless of their background. Furthermore, it was instilled in me to make decisions that would always benefit others and not just myself.
Growing up, our home was always lively! It was full of friends and family who needed support and we had a mix of people of different races and cultures as well as backgrounds coming and going.
In later life, this led to me feeling the urge to investigate adoption. I had always wanted to adopt from a young age. However, I then came across fostering 15 years ago when my children were young, and I had recently become a single parent.
While I wanted to pursue fostering, being a single parent is hard and sometimes you have to prioritise! At the time, I needed to ensure my birth children were supported and provided with a warm and loving home, regardless of the changes in our circumstances.
In December 2015, I attended a White Working-Class Achievement project, (a key focus of mine) held by UCL Institute of Education with Tower Hamlets as Deputy Head. Looking at the then data, I was shocked that only 17% of LAC get A* – C grades at school. Sadly, things haven’t changed much and only 6% of care leavers go to university. I wanted to do something about this and knew that a loving home can make all the difference in improving a young person’s life chances.
Passionate about wanting to make a difference in a different way to being an educator, I continued my research on this and decided it was time to explore fostering as an option further. I spoke to different people about adoption and fostering and after careful consideration and discussion, decided fostering was the way to go. This was because you get much more support and are part of a professional parenting team.
I discussed my decision with my family. It was essential my daughters were involved and we had lots of talks about how their and our lives would change. Eventually, it was a team decision to proceed as I wouldn’t have considered it otherwise. Fostering is about working as a team, which includes the whole household’s involvement including the birth family.
I came across Fostercare UK after seeing one of their leaflets in my local Tesco store. I researched thoroughly as it was going to be a key decision in our lives. Initially, I met with a few different agencies as well as local authorities. However, I found the Fostercare UK staff to be really warm, open and honest and most importantly, they welcomed that I had not had the easiest of lives and had faced challenges myself. It was a game-changer and so I decided to begin my application process with them.
The social worker who did the Form F was hugely supportive and was sensitive to our needs as it can be a really intrusive and at times, difficult process.
When I was finally approved and got my first placement, I found myself being scared and delighted all at the same time. We desperately wanted to welcome the child to the home.
So, I made sure I was prepared, and everything was ready for their arrival. I read the referral carefully and thoroughly – even between the lines and gave my own children a summary of the facts they needed to know.
The child in care was also briefed about the family to help them adjust before arriving at our home. It must be so frightening and daunting for anyone, let alone a child who has been moved from often a complex, difficult situation to a place with unknown people and routines. Observing carefully, making them feel at ease and being positive yet being vigilant of their needs is crucial.
Furthermore, face timing and showing a video of the house and providing a new pair of pyjamas and toiletries on the first night is always a winner!
Since then, I have cared for a variety of children with different needs. Ranging from a short-term placement for a child who had suffered extreme neglect, to an unaccompanied asylum seeker. I have also worked with therapeutic placements, respite and long term.
I feel that every day is integral. Each day is a challenge and a celebration. The smallest thing can be a momentous daily victory. Yet also, each day has its own daily challenges and battles. I believe carers need to tailor the day accordingly and always turn a negative situation into a positive one by using it as a chance to teach a valuable lesson or a learning moment where everyone learns from it.
Fostering is not what I expected it to be. I didn’t realize the amount of support given and the full regulations which you learn over time. Every placement has different challenges. Every relationship needs to be worked on both with professionals and the young person.
The relationship you have with your supervising social worker and the local authority social worker is vital. They give you the oomph that you need when you want that much-needed support.
Each time a placement ends or starts, there needs to be a restructure within the family and we need to recalibrate as the balance needs to be re-aligned. I underestimated fostering and realize now that it is a 24/7 job. In fact, I often forget it is a job and not just bringing a child into your family.
My children sometimes find it wonderful and sometimes, they find it challenging and exhausting. Any challenges they face needs to be worked through, and sometimes I feel I don’t always have enough time for my birth children and try to reflect and address that. It is a whole household experience and my family need to be included and also supported as much as possible.
From my experience, one of my favourite parts of fostering is when a child feels at home and sees you as their champion. When they have doubts that you will give up on them but then they realize you have their back.
You prove them wrong by coming through and by playing the long game by constantly reassuring them and loving them, even when things are hard. When they call home ‘home’ and they smile, at times a reluctant smile, and they know you are there to keep them safe, it sends a warm feeling in my heart. It still makes my day!
The staff at Fostercare UK are excellent! The supervising social workers challenge me to think harder and deeper but it works both ways. I have been able to challenge them (in the nicest possible way of course) about certain decisions as we are a team acting in the best interests of the child.
In my experience, I have found Fostercare UK to be integrity led and the staff make child-focused decisions which support me and the family. They are mindful of both the foster children and the birth children. The Out of Hours service is really good and supportive and have been useful in times of need, by offering reassurance and advice and work to maintain stability within the household. At times, that chat is much needed and allows you to continue even when the going gets tough!
More importantly for me, Fostercare UK have a family feel and you get to know each professional as a person-from support staff to senior staff. The training is excellent, and the MAT’s (Multi-disciplinary Assessment & Treatment) service is superb. It is great to know I am part of larger parenting team who have my back.
So why do I advocate fostering? People are always puzzled as to why I foster. I always say that foster children are not just my children or someone else’s children- they are all our children. We all should carry a responsibility to support them as that will help society in the long term.
Children in care often come with little or nothing and are prone to having deep-rooted complexities which are certainly not means-tested. They have to have the best opportunities so that one day they can be happy, secure adults with their own lives who can make informed choices for themselves and succeed at all costs. Above all, they need more than hope!
Being a mother, I know what a loving, stable home can do for my birth daughters and for my foster children. They have the opportunity to thrive and succeed emotionally, physically and academically. This will hopefully complement their experience of education and enable them to aspire and overcome challenges despite the odds they face
As an educator and foster parent now, my classroom and office have moved to my home- and meetings etc. are held at Choudhury HQ. It took several bereavements to make me think harder and deeper about how things can be done differently. My life is, even more, richer now and I love spending time with my very diverse, crazy family who keep me on my toes.
Now the teaching, learning, life chats, positive influencing and difficult conversations happen at home through picnics, family meals etc. I am no longer just Ms. Choudhury or Mum or Ma’am as I am known these days in my multiple roles , but also Mez, a family nickname and used by my foster children!
Yes, it is a bit Mary Poppins in our house or Mezzy Poppins as they call me. (I like to think it is about the magic and thrill but my birth daughters who are well versed as to how things are run at CHQ, are adamant that it is more about “spit spot” and getting things done to an excellent standard! Old habits die hard!
According to them, I am Mezzy Mulan when I am talking to them about relationships, human rights and girl power. While we do have our moments of hell, we mostly have moments of harmony. The girly shouts of laughter and banter with Spotify blaring with a Polish Mrs. Doubtfire we call Babcha, (Grandmother in Polish) who works for us and who bosses me about completely and is part of our family, in charge–are priceless! What’s not to love!