As a foster carer, it’s not always easy to know how many children’s lives you touch or the difference you make to those lives. But, one foster family which has been fostering children and young people for around 15 years has, so far, helped more than 80 looked after children to find a home… and their fostering journey is far from over.
Munira and Daud have fostered 38 children since they were approved in 2005. In addition to the children they have cared for themselves, the couple has recruited a further seven foster carers and these seven families have recruited two more foster carers. Between them, these nine families have fostered 42 children. In total, this means that 80 looked after children have had the chance of a stable home, thanks to the decision of one couple – Munira and Daud – to foster.
It is an extraordinary legacy.
We asked Munira and Daud to share their fostering journey and reflect on the difference they have made to so many young lives.
Introduction to fostering
Munira explained she was just 26, and the mother to a one-year old and a newborn, when she first heard about fostering:
“I went to nursery to drop boys off and one of the nursery nurses told me it was her last day. She explained she’d just been approved to become a foster carer and I asked her what that meant. She told me all about fostering and said she thought my husband and I would be ideal foster carers. I’d never thought about it before but my husband said he’d always wanted to foster but had never really looked into it.”
It was a challenging time in their life for Munira and Daud with two small babies to take care of. Daud was working long hours and Munira was planning to go back to her job as a bank cashier once the boys were old enough.
However, Munira was immediately inspired by the idea of becoming a foster carer:
“I thought oh my god, I’d be giving children an opportunity to have a family. They could have what they didn’t have with their birth family. The more the social worker came to talk to us, the more I loved the idea. I kept asking her questions. She said she could fast track our assessments and we decided to go ahead.”
Never looked back
Initially, Munira had no plans to give up her job, intending to foster alongside working part- time. However, attending the Skills to Foster training changed her mind.
“I realised that what I wanted to do was to foster full-time and I handed in my notice at work. I’ve never looked back. The first child we got was a teenager. It was pretty challenging but you could see him making progress once he had some structure and stability in his life. It was very satisfying.”
That was 15 years ago but Munira has lost none of her initial enthusiasm for fostering. In fact, if anything, she has become even more of an advocate.
“I love it,” she said. “Fostering these children completes our family and our foster children are treated exactly the same way as our own children. Over the years, I’ve developed a really good understanding of these children and young people who’ve had such different experiences to my own and those of my children. It’s made me appreciate what an excellent upbringing I had. In fact, when we welcomed the first child to live with us, I actually thanked my mum and dad for giving me such a great childhood.”
Munira and Daud have learned the value of persistence in their role of foster parents. Munira said:
“It’s all about chipping away, making a difference a bit at a time. They may not listen to you the first time, the second time or the 95th time, but you chip away at it and eventually they understand.
“One of the best things about fostering is once you’ve been doing it a few years your former foster children come back to you… maybe when they’ve got their first car or a job or got married, or graduated in law. They come back and say thank you and that’s such a great reward.”
Highs and lows
So, overall, what are the highs and lows of fostering?
“The highs are that these children come into our home and they love staying here so much they don’t want to move. I love that. The lows are always when it’s time to let them go. You have to try and be professional but you’re also human and you can’t help but love them. It always hurts but over the years we have trained ourselves to try and deal with it.”
Despite the rewards of being a foster carer, Munira is honest about its challenges and said that two or three children in particular stretched their resources. At these times, the support the family received from the National Fostering Agency and their supervising social worker in particular has been “phenomenal” in helping to keep the looked after child and the family safe. Munira said:
“At first I was on the phone to her all the time with questions but gradually that reduced and now she calls me! I’ve always found the training gives me exactly what I need and it is good, too, to be able to share experiences and opinions with other foster carers and to get input from experienced social workers. As the years have gone on, I always do what I can to support and encourage other foster carers. The one bit of advice I always give is ‘foster because you want to not because you need to’. This is the best job in the world and also one of the hardest.”
Munira believes that foster carers are ideally placed to identify other suitable foster carers as they know what it takes to make a difference to looked after children. And the need for more good foster carers has never been greater, as she explained:
“Sadly, some looked after children are put into families that can’t fully meet the needs of their ethnic and cultural background or their physical needs – for example, a disabled child who may need 24-hour care. There is a huge need for foster carers with the capacity and capability to look after some of these more complex children – and there are more of them coming into care. The more good quality carers there are, the more chances these children have. That’s why I’m always looking to refer suitable people.”
Munira is a Muslim but has a young Catholic boy in her care. She said:
“It’s important to maintain the child’s religious and cultural background wherever possible. I encourage him to go to church even though I’m a Muslim myself and we ensure that we celebrate religious festivals like Christmas.”
The right qualities
All of the people that Munira has referred to the National Fostering Agency are people that she knows well and believes have the makings of a great foster carer. One was a neighbour whose children she’d seen grow up. She said:
“Because we already know these people – a bit about their background, what family dynamics are like, how their children are raised – it makes it easier for the assessor. They know that an approved foster carer will only refer people that they think have the right qualities to become a good foster carer.”
And what are the right qualities for a foster carer?
“The most important qualities are an open mind and compassion. Looked after children can have challenging behaviours – maybe they are addicted to drugs or stealing – but you need to be able to look beyond those behaviours to the reasons behind it. When I was growing up we were taught charity. I’ve always had sympathy and compassion for people less fortunate than myself and I try to instil these values in my children.”
Above all, Munira believes that foster carers must have a genuine desire to foster and help children. She said:
“There are seriously neglected and damaged children out there who need a home. Sadly, you can’t undo all the years of damage but you can at least rectify some of it and build some kind of compassionate link. This job is no walk in the park. Some children will shock you and drive you bonkers but I genuinely adore my job as a foster carer and I don’t intend to stop any time soon.”