Foster care: if you provide care over many years this will expose you to a huge number of different experiences. These can be life-changing. The same thing can apply even if you have not been fostering very long. You simply never know. In this piece, we talk with one of our longest-standing foster parents as he reflects on some of the experiences that have come his way over the years…
“Mr Noori thank you for sparing me time today. You have been one of our longest-serving foster carers – I would be grateful if you could give me some of your general background and how it led you into fostering?”
“Well, my story goes back a long way now, my family came to the UK when I was 14 years of age. We lived in the north of the country and I started my working life in 1968 in the catering industry. This became a real passion – so much so – that over the next few years I opened a chain of Indian restaurants in and around Yorkshire. I had several restaurants in Yorkshire. In December 1994, I moved down to London. I was working as a consultant in the catering industry. This was because I had acquired a considerable amount of expertise through running, not just one operation, but several. There are so many aspects to running this type of business and you need knowledge in a wide range of different areas: an example -as a Muslim, I don’t drink, but this has not stopped me picking up a considerable amount of knowledge about all the different wines that are available and intoxicating drinks.”
“You mentioned your family, I believe you have two children of your own. You were clearly driven and ambitious – did that rub off on them?”
“Yes, I am proud to say that both my son and daughter have worked extremely hard. I always gave them the idea that in life you have to find a passion for something – then do that to the best of your abilities and then achieve that that piece of paper which is a degree.
My son is now 35 and after going to Oxford University, he is now working as Head of European Operations for a Japanese entertainment and gaming conglomerate – Konami. He is currently working on a range of projects that include gaming Apps. In fact, at this moment in time, there is at the exciting possibility of a collaboration that will involve David Beckham.
My daughter, who is 39, studied Business and Marketing at Buckinghamshire University and is working for Scottish Power.”
“Very obviously your children have done extremely well and are leading busy lives. That; I understand as a parent, is enormously satisfying. But it’s quite a step to then think about fostering. How did that come about?”
“Well, I have to say the idea of becoming a foster carer was not something that had occurred to me. It came about because my wife’s niece, Sadia Chaudry, worked at Rainbow Fostering. She inspired my wife about fostering who then became adamant it was something she wanted to do. My view at the time was that as both our children were growing up and were in higher education it was something we could consider. That was after a few months of persuasion by my wife. I could see that as we were by then, living in a house with a few spare rooms, it was a practical proposition. So we joined Rainbow back in 2001 – 18 years ago. Over that time we have had so many varied experiences, my wife and I certainly feel we have ‘come of age’ as far as fostering goes.”
“Now you and your wife are amongst our most experienced foster carers, you must have many memories. Can I ask which are the ones that stand out? I suppose the very first one must have made a considerable impression. That’s usually how it is for most foster carers.”
“That’s certainly true. I recall it well. The first child we had was Michael – a two-year-old mixed-race child. His mother was English, from Halifax and his father was a Pakistani. He had a sibling – an older brother who was also placed by Rainbow. It was a very quick introduction to the chaotic and risky lives many vulnerable children experience before coming into care. Both his parents were on methadone and the child had almost died having consumed methadone. He was hospitalised as a consequence. My wife always remembers this very first placement simply because when Michael arrived, he rushed up to her and flung both his arms around her legs. Quite a moment! And to this day she still has a photograph of Michael taken when he was 2 by her bedside cabinet. I suppose that all foster carers will always remember that very first placement and it was no different for us.”
“How long was Michael with you and your wife?”
Michael stayed with us for 4 years. Over that time, he settled with us so well that people thought he was our grandchild. It was a wrench when he left us aged 6 – but that is something all foster carers have to get used to. We could content ourselves with the knowledge that it was for Michael a happy ending since he was going back to live with his mother, Belinda. She had been given help and support to recover from her addiction so that it was safe for Michael to return home. And when he left us he could speak fluent Urdu!
We did all meet up together once – I recall we went for a McDonalds near to where he was living. It would have been nice if that had continued, but I think his mother was feeling a little jealous of the relationship Michael had developed with my wife. And we could understand that. I know that Michael must be around nineteen or twenty years of age as we still see a lad he went to school with all those years ago. We are very happy we gave him that stability early on in his young life. And we have some special memories – especially of him singing Urdu songs in Sainsbury’s – while shopping with my wife.”
“I can see that Michael benefited from the care that you were able to provide at such an early stage in his life. What was the next placement that stays in your mind?”
“We then were offered a sibling group of 3. A boy of 10, Faizan; a girl of 8, Azra and a girl of 6, Bina. Faizan left us when he was 18, Azra attended a local Community School but we always particularly remember the youngest girl Bina. This is because she worked very hard and achieved excellent A level results. And because she had such ambition she secured a place at leading university to read Psychology. We were so pleased when she graduated with her BSc.
This is an example of how fostering can be especially rewarding. We remain in close contact with Bina who now lives in Hounslow and sees us regularly. We celebrate Eid with Bina and my own grand-daughters call her Aunty! And when they ask her where her mum is, Bina says my wife is her mum!”
“That must feel very rewarding. You mentioned you had three rooms available so you must have had a number of siblings staying with you, particularly as so much effort is made to keep them together?”
“That’s true, we had 3 bedrooms dedicated to foster caring. Two of the rooms had a bunk bed each, and one room had a single bed so we could accommodate up to 5 children at any given time. And at times we did have 5 children. In fact, once about three or four years ago, our social worker Sindhu whilst making a regular visit, said: “How many placements do you think you have had over the last twelve months?” She gave me the exact number and it was 39! The placements we have had have been of all types: emergency, short-term, long-term and respite.
We have also looked after children of many different nationalities, religions and cultures i.e. English, Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Rumanian, Albanian, Syrian, Iraqi, Somalian, Afghans, Sudanese, Ghanians – even a young Vietnamese girl.”
We have mostly cared for Muslim children as we ourselves are Muslims and this
provides for the best cultural match.
“Are there any other placements that stick in your mind?”
“As most carers will recognise, the circumstances of children or young people arriving in your home can be quite dramatic. I remember one occasion when the director, called and asked me to be at Heathrow to meet a flight at 1 am with the police. Onboard a flight returning from Islamabad were a sibling group of three girls and a boy. They were returning as an attempt had been made to force the oldest girl into a marriage there. This had been uncovered as her friend had alerted the school which in turn informed social services which led to the Home Office becoming involved. After the girl was rescued and returned, we looked after her and her siblings for a week. She was then able to go and live with her aunt in Hounslow.”
I also recall the time; probably the most upsetting example when I had to go to the North Middlesex Hospital to collect a 1-year-old English girl from the police. The child had suffered heavy bruising down one side of her body after her mother – who had been drunk – had flung her down the stairs. We had that child for two days before she was taken into the care of Haringey Social Services. We did hear that the child was later able to return to her birth mother after she had been helped with her problems. But I shall never forget the sight of those bruises on the child’s body.
“Fostering can always create surprises, drama and novel situations – I presume you would agree – especially given the experiences you have tole me about. I imagine there are many more over the eighteen years you and your wife have been fostering?”
“Yes there are – it wasn’t so very long ago that I was called to collect a 6-year- old black Muslim boy called Aabis at 1 in the morning. The police had found him wandering the streets of Harlesden. It was found that his mother had managed to keep him shut up in the home as she worked a 10 ‘till 6 shift. However, on that particular evening, he had managed to get out. We only had him for 2 days but, I learned he was able to return to his mother once more support had been provided.”
“You’ve been fostering for a long time now Mr Noori, are you and your wife still enjoying the experience?”
“We are, but as we are getting older we are only accepting children over the age of 12. We are trained to have children from 0 – 18, like all foster carers at Rainbow are, but now in recent years we have made the decision to only accept older children. We have had a few asylum seekers in the last few years. One, a Muslim youth from Albania, is 18 and with us as under the terms of ‘Staying Put’. Since being with us, his English has greatly improved and he is taking GCSEs with the aim of going into medicine. I say to him he will succeed if he maintains his determination. Already he has completed some ‘taster’ courses at the University of Buckinghamshire and Brookes College Oxford .”
If I think of today – I was delayed coming into seeing you because there was an issue involving the asylum seeker from Afghanistan we have had with us since December. I had to attend his school to ensure that his dietary requirements were being met. He is hardworking and his English is improving every day.
“You’ve remained with Rainbow all these years. You’ll be aware that foster carers have a choice. Some start working for local authorities, leave and then transfer between agencies. What has kept you with Rainbow all these years?”
“Well before answering that, I would like to say that with all our years of fostering we understand that it can be extremely demanding and often it is a thankless task. All foster carers will have that understanding. But, like us, they will all have those individual experiences that are unique and very rewarding. I will anticipate your next question and say that for my wife and I, the way our lives changed after caring for Bina has been so rewarding. That we could provide the support to enable her to go to university and get a degree, means we know her life has been transformed. From our knowledge of fostering and the vulnerabilities and disadvantages of children who come into care, we know what an amazing achievement it is for a foster child to even get to university. Sadly it does remain against the odds for many children in care.
And perhaps most of all, Bina has truly become a member of our family.”
Then there was the proof of the commitment and support from Rainbow and the director especially to each and every fostering placement we have had. And this was never made more evident than when we had a sibling group of 4: 3 girls ages19,18,15 and a boy of 12. At one point, the 15-year-old got into an argument with my own daughter – drawing in her brother. This escalated to the point where my daughter felt she might be physically attacked. This resulted in her having a panic attack and then collapsing at midnight. An ambulance was called and, happily, she was revived – but it could have been worse. The director arrived almost as quickly as the ambulance and ensured all the children were moved the next day. After such a stressful and upsetting experience the immediate support we got gave us the sense of reassurance we have always had with Rainbow.
“I would like to register my thanks to Mr Noori for being so forthcoming about the fostering experiences he and his wife have shared. It is often said; rightly, that foster carers come from all walks of life. That is true, but when one learns of the amazing variety of experiences – both professional and in the setting of his own family – it becomes apparent why the Nooris have been able to offer so much to – thereby enabling and inspiring the many youngsters they have cared for.”
*All names changed to protect privacy.
Could you do what the Noori’s do?
If this has provided you with an insight into the world of foster care which definitely struck a chord, it might be you have what it takes to be a foster carer. This means you could make a lasting difference to the lives of vulnerable children and young people. Be in no doubt, it can be challenging, but remember there are a great many good times and happy memories to be had. And, if you are fostering with Rainbow – because we have been rated outstanding in all areas by Ofsted – you will have the peace of ming that goes with knowing we provide round the clock support and lots of scope for training for all our foster carers. This means they can build their professional expertise and build rewarding careers with the agency that lets you care to the best of your abilities.
For an informal chat about a career in foster care – with no obligation or pressure, call Rainbow on 020 8427 3355 or 0330 311 2845. There’s also information available about fostering at https://www.gov.uk/browse/childcare-parenting/fostering-adoption-surrogacy You might also like to read more about becoming a foster carer at http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/our-assessment-process/ Visit our website news section for foster care news: https://bit.ly/2kJHpsO