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Meet Safeena and Muhammad

We started our fostering journey in 2018. I’ve always worked in childcare and within different roles, some of which were helping children with learning difficulties or disabilities. I remember being 11 or 12 and thinking that one day I would either be a foster carer, would adopt or would work with elderly people.

We started our fostering journey in 2018. I’ve always worked in childcare and within different roles, some of which were helping children with learning difficulties or disabilities. I remember being 11 or 12 and thinking that one day I would either be a foster carer, would adopt or would work with elderly people. My husband, Muhammad is from Pakistan and fostering isn’t part of normal life there. When I explained to him what foster care was all about, he loved the idea. Muhammad has a severely autistic sister who lives in a small village in Pakistan. Although she is fine on a day-to-day basis, she has never been to school, nor had the opportunities that other children may have had. Seeing the opportunities that children with autism have here made Muhammad feel even more passionately about us becoming foster carers and being able to help a young person in need.

We lived with my mum for a while and so we waited until we had a place of our own before taking that step. I took a break from work in 2017 to spend some time in Pakistan. When we came back, it seemed the perfect time to start looking into fostering.

We don’t see fostering as a “job”. It’s something you have to give your absolute all to as it’s a 24-hour commitment.

I really enjoyed the training with Capstone Foster Care and found that I had covered a lot of the content during my career in childcare settings. Muhammad’s English wasn’t that good at the time, so he found it harder, and he needed my help. He attends college and over time his English has improved greatly, so he now finds sessions much easier.

Muhammad was on holiday in Pakistan when we received the call about our first placement. It was an emergency placement for just a few hours. Despite all the training and knowing exactly what I needed to do, I still naturally felt very nervous to start with. It was for a two-year-old who had been found wandering the streets. What I loved was that I was not left to deal with anything on my own. The out of hours supervising social worker called me every couple of hours to check in and to confirm everything that I needed to do. I already knew, but having this confirmation and support was amazing. The police also called regularly to let me know what was going on.

Two months later, we then had our next placement, a 10-year-old boy, T.

We’d found out beforehand that he liked Marvel which was great as I am a fan too. I don’t think he expected that, and it was a good icebreaker to be able to talk about our favourite films. He also said he was a foodie, which Muhammad is too so finding these things in common really helped. I didn’t know what to cook for the first meal and so had prepared a number of things, including British, Pakistani and Italian food! My chicken pilau was a great success with T, I’m happy to say.

T will have been with us for three years in December. He is such a big part of our family and we know that he always will be. Now he’s a teen, he doesn’t always want to come along on family visits and my mum gets really annoyed if she doesn’t get the chance to see him the same way she does with all my nieces and nephews. She treats him the same way as all of the grandchildren.

It takes a long time to build up that trust with a foster child. When T first arrived, we had to go right back to basics. He had never been shown properly how to wash his face or clean his teeth and worried that he would be laughed at if he asked. We gradually did things together over time until he grew in confidence. Fridays are self-care days in our house and that first Friday I ran him a bubble bath to relax in. He had never heard of a bubble bath before and had only ever had showers. He wrote on his form for his social worker that day that he loved the bubble bath. That it was so calming, and he felt like he was home. It just goes to show just how much the little things make such a huge difference for children in foster care.

He also had to deal with people staring at us as a family when we were out and about because his skin colour was different. He is able to cope with this much better now. We live in a great community and everyone knows him/us and looks out for each other which really helps.

T was bullied previously and the one day he came home from school upset. When we talked, I found out that some of the boys at his school had tried to block his way in the corridor. My four nephews saw this and went to see what was happening, telling the boys that T was their cousin and asking what was going on. The boys quickly apologised and T was just so overwhelmed. He said that no one had ever done anything like that for him before.

There are so many moments over the last three years that make us stand back and see what a difference we are making as foster carers. One Easter, I had arranged for all the nieces and nephews to come over to play water games. T began by saying he didn’t want to get soaked, which all the children respected. Within 30 minutes, he was begging them to throw water at him. He had just never heard of a water fight before and was afraid as he didn’t know what to expect. He said afterwards that it was the best day of his life.

This year, when making Mother’s Day cards at school, he came home and dropped one in my lap, then quickly disappeared as he was embarrassed. This was something I wasn’t expecting at all. When I read all the words he wrote, I couldn’t help but cry. Moments like that are just indescribable.

T is very close to one of my nephews on my sister’s side who is now 5. It’s funny now hearing how he speaks to him. Listening to children is so important. When he is feeling stressed, I always say to T to take some big deep breaths to start to feel calm and then let’s talk about his feelings. He struggled to talk about his feelings to begin with and it has taken time for him to be able to do this. I hear him now saying to my nephew when he is feeling overwhelmed, about taking deep breaths to be calm first so they can talk. My sister overheard T saying the once how your mum isn’t necessarily always going to be there, so you need to be able to do things for yourself. We all shed a tear about that. How a 10-year-old-boy has reason to think those things is heart-breaking.

To anyone thinking of becoming a foster carer….

…we would say that you have to feel passionately about helping these children and be willing to go the extra mile. Every child is so different and you need to have endless patience. You will never fully know what a child has been through and you get to learn their individual triggers as time goes on. The first 2-3 months is a time where a child feels nervous. It’s once they settle in properly after that when you are able to get to know their true personality and how to help them. Fostering a child is not the same as bringing up your own child. Their needs are different because of their experiences.

Speaking to other foster carers and asking any questions that you are worried about is a great way to find out more about fostering.

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