BIG READ: '˜Fostering brought us closer together as a family'
Becoming a foster carer is a huge decision.
It’s one that can change your life forever.
And it’s done just that for Rowshonara Reza, from Southsea, who decided to foster children from ethnic minorities.
The 44-year-old and her husband Syed Mahfuzur Reza, 58, already have four children.
But Ro, as she is known to family and friends, felt a need to do something to help vulnerable children who have not been as lucky as her own, particularly those who share her Muslim faith.
She is now encouraging others from ethnic minority communities to consider fostering too.
Reza and Syed have three daughters aged 25, 20 and 14 and a son aged 24, but want to offer children in need a warm and loving home.
‘There wasn’t anything focusing on targeting people from an ethnic minority community (to become foster parents)’ she says.
‘I knew there were a lot of children coming in from countries like Syria and I wondered where they were being placed and how their needs were met, culturally and religiously.’
Ro and her husband went to an information event run by Portsmouth City Council to learn more about fostering, which she said was attended only by white British families.
She says: ‘It was very welcoming. Everyone was really positive. They made it look so easy. Anything we wanted to know -– the answer was there.
‘But I didn’t know why people from the Muslim or Bengali community weren’t coming forward. It kept coming back to me again and again.
‘I really felt that it needed to be promoted more in the community.
‘As I work in the community, I started carrying leaflets and information with me and willing people to get behind it.’
Ro discovered there was a huge amount to learn about fostering.
‘You need to be on board with safeguarding and know how to keep the child safe’ she says.
‘It’s very serious stuff. It was a very lengthy process. My children were involved and were asked questions. They contacted their school and found out about their education. At that point I thought, do we really want to go on?’
But there were positives to the fostering process. The family had to complete tasks together, which encouraged them to spend time together.
‘It brought us closer’ Ro adds.
‘My husband was working at night and I was working in the day so we had to make time to write the task about his childhood and my childhood and we did a family tree.
‘It was quite interesting. It felt like we were writing our own book together.
‘It was a rollercoaster but we could see the difference foster families make. It was a life-changing process.’
It took two years for Ro and her husband to be granted foster carer status.
So far, they have fostered two children. The first was a 12-year-old British girl on a short-term placement.
The second was an 11-year-old Muslim boy from Iran.
He got on so well with the family they were keen to continue caring for him until he is an adult. Arrangements have been made for the boy, who can’t be named but is now 13, to remain with the family until he is 18.
‘Although it’s an unusual step for a foster family, it was felt that it was the best way forward for the child.
‘He started off with us for two weeks and went back to his mum. But then he came back to us. I still remember that day.
‘He said “I just want to come with you”. Somehow, we all knew that this boy was going to come back to us.
‘He feels that this is his home. He’s comfortable and happy. He’s very settled at school.
‘He’s a nice boy. I spend lots of time with him. I don’t treat him any differently than I do my other children.’
She adds: ‘We travel in the UK and we go to theme parks and seeing the child’s face light up is something that money can’t buy. We are very privileged to have him.’
But Ro says despite her experience she knows she must not grow too attached to her foster children.
She hopes her experience will encourage other people from ethnic minorities to step forward and become foster carers.
She is also helping support non-Muslim carers who care for Muslim children.
‘I have made contact with other foster carers who are looking after Muslim children who contact us and ask for help and support,’ she says. ‘A lot of families need to buy halal meat and they find out about the local mosques.’
Ro describes her role as a foster parent ‘a blessing’. And she feels her foster child would have missed out on important cultural traditions had he gone to a non-Muslim family.
She adds: ‘I would say to anyone, don’t hesitate to become a foster carer. You are changing somebody’s life.’
COULD YOU BECOME A FOSTER CARER?
The assessment process to become a foster carer usually takes between four to six months.
If you need more experience of working with young people, local authorities will try to help you access this.
There are various types of fostering options available to potential foster carers, including fostering full-time, part-time or respite care.
There is also Lodgings Plus which is ideal for those who want to stay in work and still foster. You simply provide a spare room to a 16 to 24-year-old in care and around 10 hours support per week with things like teaching them to cook and helping them apply for jobs.
In Portsmouth there is an urgent need for foster carers for teenagers, foster carers with childcare experience, or experience of working with young people, whether personal, professional or voluntary.
Please visit foster.portsmouth.gov or call (023) 9283 4071.
Visitors to the Finding Homes for Hampshire Children website at Hampshire County Council, can now have a live chat online with an adviser to ask questions about adoption, including their potential eligibility to adopt. It’s available during office hours and they will receive immediate answers.
Go to hants.gov.uk/adoption, or call 0300 555 1384.