Foster care needs to be far better understood by the general public. There is a disconnect between the reality of fostering children and how the job is perceived. As ‘Foster Care Fortnight’ approaches – beginning 13th May – we mark this important event by profiling ‘care experienced’ individuals: people who have gone on in life to make their mark in their chosen field. Often these are stories that testify to indomitable spirit and focus. Their value lies in that our perceptions and preconceived ideas about fostering can be challenged. We can see that with the right set of influences and loving support, lives can be – not just turned around – but directed toward achieving fame and fortune. And at this moment in time, this is particularly important: 8,000 new foster families are needed across the country. We need to find ways to inform, educate and inspire. It’s only by keeping foster care in the public’s gaze that we can expect to make significant inroads into improving recruitment.
Our ‘fostering heroes’ are all drawn from the list compiled by the poet Lemn Sissay. It numbers one hundred individuals all with experience of being fostered or growing up in the care system. As he says: “ I have compiled this small list of 100 people from the UK who were fostered adopted or in children’s homes. I have met most of them on my travels.”
It’s a sad truth that being a foster child can mean feeling stigmatised. This can impede progress at school. Foster children often have to struggle against a feeling of being different. Thinking about the lives and experiences of those on Sissay’s list will; it is to be hoped, provide foster carers with great examples. They can use these to have discussions with the children and young people they are caring for. Success, in so many ways, breeds success. Fostering has to be about communicating the idea that wherever you start from in life you can succeed.
Nothing breeds success like success and having real life examples to talk about, can be inspirational. These people show what can be achieved – in any walk of life.
Kriss Akabusi was born to Nigerian parents in Paddington,London. At the time they were studying in London. The family was split up when they returned to Nigeria when Kriss was only four. In 1967, civil war broke out in Nigeria, which prevented him from maintaining contact with his parents. Both Kriss and his brother, Riba, were brought up with foster carers. It was not until he was a teenager that he was reunited with his mother. Her ambition was for Kriss to return to Nigeria but he remained in the UK. It was not until he reached the age of twenty-one that he visited Nigeria. He was educated at Edmonton County School and then joined the Army in 1975. But before that he made a conscious decision to change his name from Kezie to Kriss. And the reason revealed in 2002; which perhaps gives an insight into why he went on to achieve so much in the sporting world,
“I decided to make a new start and part of that new start was to have a new name. I spelt my name with a ‘K’ as I didn’t want to change my initials and I want to have some connection with the past. Kezie Akabusi was the connection to my past, but Kriss Akabusi is a connection with my future.”
Notwithstanding being separated at an early age from his parents – discomfiting for any child – and then going into foster care, Kriss Akabusi was and is clearly driven by the idea of a personal future. And could there be anything more positive than actually changing his name to signify that deeply held conviction? A commitment to the idea that the future can be positive has to be a big part of the explanation underlying the success of care experienced people. It certainly won’t always be possible to see in which direction this might lie. But, the important thing is to have the right attitude. Then life experiences can coalesce around this positivity and shape an individual’s future.
So, back to Krisss Akabusi’s formative years in the Army. It was here, after switching from the Royal Corps of Signals to the Army Physical Training Corps, that his sporting prowess first emerged. The rest; as is popularly said “is history”. In 1983, Kris embarked upon a career in athletics. The first event that he specialised in was the 400 meters. he then switched to focusing on the 400 metres hurdles in 1987. But before that there was medal success: as a member of the 4 x 4 relay team he won a silver medal at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984. More glory was to follow. Notably, Kriss Akabusi broke the longstanding British 400m hurdles record set by David Hemery, recording a time of 47.93 seconds. In 1991 he won a gold medal winning as a member of the 4 x 400 relay team. As his career in athletics drew to a close, he still managed to win a bronze medal in the Olympic Games at Barcelona. A magnificent achievement as lowered the British record to 47.82 seconds. Along the way he also picked up a bronze medal in the 4 x 400m relay event.
Foster care can be the right catalyst, depending on the personality involved. Being a foster child creates challenges that more fortunate children do not face. It’s how challenges are met, that ultimately defines a person. This is where foster carers can play such a pivotal role in guiding a young person’s development. If they can inculcate the idea that challenges are ever present, but overcoming them provides the confidence to recognise fresh opportunities. So in the case of Kriss Akabusi, when a brilliant sporting career came to an end to an end, that might have been difficult. But he clearly felt his connection and commitment to his own future was absolute. And this he demonstrated. Once he retired from athletics, he rose to the challenges of a career in the media. This resulted in appearances on favourite TV shows such as ‘A Question of Sport’, ‘They Think It’s All Over’ and ‘Through the Keyhole’. Kriss also made a cameo appearance as a milkman in an episode of the long running, hugely successful and iconic comedy series, ‘Last of the Summer Wine.
In a sports blog entitled ‘History awaits as long as you don’t look back’ written during the 2008 Olympics, Kris Akabusi, wrote movingly – some would say revealingly:
“The past is for reference, not a residence; make sure you step up to the mark TODAY. That’s my message to every athlete taking part in the Olympic Games. This is what you have been working so hard for, the pinnacle of your career, your do-or-die moment.”
Can you imagine a better motivational quote? And the first sentence is of inestimable value and relevance to any child in foster care – as well as their foster carers who should always be looking to encourage and inspire. Yes, any child who goes into the care system is – compared to his peers – unfortunate. But this is not always so. Especially if they have foster carers determined to make a profound and positive difference to the futures of the children and young people they have.
Fostering a sense of focus.
What is quickly apparent from Kriss Akabusi’s writings is the incredible focus he has – as well as recognising this quality in others: “It has to be said that once they are at the Olympics, most athletes just focus on their event and what they have to do to succeed.” Such views are to be expected from someone who has scaled the Olympian heights of his own track specialities and returned with gold.
Kriss Akabusi acknowledges that there are lasting benefits to being an Olympian. It brought a career in the media and later as a motivational speaker. He has also experienced what goes with fame – being recognised in the street. He also is amused that the exposure sport gave him enabled people to – as he puts it – “to discover the most intimate aspects of your personality. I don’t think my laugh* would have become so renowned had I notion the medals that I did.”
*It was during his many appearances on shows like ‘A Question of Sport’, that he became well known for possessing a distinctive ‘roaring’ laugh’. This achieved its own fame when it was spoofed in an episode of ‘the Vicar of Dibley’ when Owen Newitt proposed to the vicar with the words “If you accept, I’ll be the happiest man in the world apart from Kriss Akabusi.”
So, considering all those years ago, Kriss and his brother went into foster care at such young ages, Kriss has travelled a long way. He has amassed Olympic medals along with European and Commonwealth titles. Kris went on to receive an MBE awarded by her Majesty the Queen in recognition of his services to the country through athletics. If you are fostering a child or young person with a serious interest in sport find out more at https://www.sportengland.org/our-work/children-and-young-people/
We make a fostering partnership with Rainbow is special?
Foster care can mean different things to different people at different times. Caring for children requires special skills and commitment. There are many agencies to choose from, but we pride ourselves in the way we work in partnership with our foster carers. This is to ensure the welfare of our children. Remember: our children are not adopted, they are fostered. Adoptive parents have full legal responsibility for a child: foster care and adoption differ as a child who is fostered is the legal responsibility of their ‘corporate parent’ which is the Local Authority.
At Rainbow, we work to build the parenting skills of our carers so they can deal with the emotional demands a child or young person may place on them. There are many children with differing problems coming into foster care: children with disabilities also need foster parents.
The foster care system can often seem a confusing place for people when they first apply to an agency or local authority. A foster family with Rainbow will always be able to rely upon our support and commitment. As an agency, we always offer plenty of respite care.
Currently, there are many more foster families needed to provide foster homes – some 8,000 additional families to provide love, security and advocacy for those children and young people they look after. If you choose to become a foster parent with Rainbow, this could be one of the most rewarding things you have ever done. Consider the professional career opportunities we offer: with our ongoing free training packages you could soon be earning up to £40,000 per annum. Especially if you decide to become a fully trained therapeutic foster carer. And if you develop the expertise to foster teenagers, sibling groups – or manage parent and child placements, your earnings will soon increase as your experience grows.
A few of the children Rainbow carers have looked after do go for adoption if a long term placement has worked out well. Adoptive parents are also in demand across the country.
Apply today or transfer today if you are an experienced foster carer!
We will be there; every step of the way to support you throughout. The process is described in full detail on our page ‘Becoming a Foster Carer’ – http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/becoming-a-foster-carer/ To learn more, call us on 020 8427 3355 or use our National Line 0330 311 2845. We would be pleased to have an exploratory, no obligation chat with you. If you are already providing foster care through an agency or local authority and would like to learn more about the benefits of switching to Rainbow, you can call for details of the onus scheme we operate as well as get more information by visiting http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/transfer-to-rainbow/