After discussions with my family, they were all on board (Picture: Afia Choudhury)
The phone rang, and the voice on the other end of the line asked if I’d look after a baby born nine weeks premature.
He had spent three weeks in hospital and his mother and father are living with HIV – with the possibility he was too.
In an instant, I agreed – after all, that is the reason I became a foster carer.
For over 17 months, myself and my family looked after this baby and he stole our hearts completely. While he brought us complete joy and I wanted him to become a permanent part of our family, my wise husband reminded me that we had been blessed with four beautiful boys of our own, and we should give a loving couple the chance to become parents.
That baby is now a teenager, living a truly happy life with his adopted family. To this day, we are still in regular contact with him. We exchange photos and life updates, and never forget to send him a birthday card.
He is just one child who is part of my fostering journey, which officially started 18 years ago. I still remember the ‘when’ moment so clearly.
A neighbour of my mother was a foster carer, looking after two Bengali children. The children were not eating so she came to my mother for some recipes.
When I went round to drop off the food, I met the two children and couldn’t get them out of my mind. I decided to research fostering and find out why children come into care.
After discussions with my family, they were all on board. In particular, I will always remember my mother’s wholehearted support of my decision to foster. I was 29 at the time and already had my two eldest sons, and during the fostering assessment process, became pregnant with my third.
Over the years, the idea of fostering never left me and I actively pursued it again once my fourth and youngest child started school in 2004. This was a joint family decision and from the start, my children always welcomed and loved the children we fostered.
The biggest challenge I have faced is the constant juggle of caring for my birth children and the children I foster (Picture: Afia Choudhury)
We had the space to foster, so it was something I knew I wanted and needed to do. My mother had passed away a few years before, but her words of encouragement never left me.
I found the whole assessment process enjoyable. I was able to reflect on my life and journey up until then, and was not scared to bare my soul. My allocated social worker was so easy to talk to and I couldn’t wait to start making a difference.
We became approved foster carers within a year of applying and started caring for two little girls, aged two and three. They came to me within six weeks of me being approved as a foster carer – it was challenging but I completely adored them.
Thanks to the network of practical and emotional support I had around me – including my three sisters – I was able to throw myself into caring for the little girls and my sons, making sure they were all cared for, safe and nurtured.
After 14 months of fostering these girls, my father sadly passed away. He was a huge part of their lives and as part of our family, they grieved with us.
It’s fair to say I’ve never looked back on my decision to foster.
To date, I’ve fostered 27 wonderful children and am proud of the difference made to their lives.
I once looked after a 10-week-old baby and his four-year-old sister, who came into care after their mother made some wrong choices at a young age. They were with us for 17 months before returning back to their parents.
I became part of the support network for them, and to this day they come to see us regularly and stay over in the holidays. As a family, we were able to support them and help with a smooth transition back to their parents.
It’s triumphs like these that make fostering so worth it.
The biggest challenge I have faced is the constant juggle of caring for my birth children and the children I foster, and prioritising all of their needs. That said, it is so rewarding and the decision to continue fostering has always been made with the entire family. It’s as much a part of their lives as it is mine.
Afia Choudhury with Helen Hayes MP (Picture: Alfie Cross)
My sons are all grown up now and have always loved each child I foster like they are siblings. They have attended my sons’ weddings and we have gone on family holidays together, which is a testament to their bond.
These relationships also extend to the birth parents of the children I foster. They are a vital part of our support networks too, and as a family we are still close to many of them.
Eight years ago, we became long term carers for a sibling group of three. The eldest has just moved back to his parents, after living with us for the last 11 years – he decided during the pandemic that he wanted to spend more time with his parents and we were happy to support him with this move – and his two younger siblings are still with us today.
Being a foster carer involves doing everything to nurture children to keep them safe and secure. This is in all aspects of their lives, ensuring they are happy and feel part of a team.
The things us foster carers are able to do – such as maintaining links with the important people in the children’s lives – are not just beneficial for them, but us too.
It’s the most rewarding thing I have done and has connected me to so many networks in my community, including meeting and mentoring other foster carers.
I mentor foster carers from the point of them first being approved. We are ‘matched’ and I am there as a friend and support for the first six months of their journey.
So far, I have mentored around 20 foster carers and I hold their hand throughout the process, answering any questions they have and being at the end of the phone or there for a coffee whenever they need me.
If you are currently like I was 18 years ago and considering fostering, I urge you to speak to your local fostering service – you really could make the world of difference.
If you’re thinking of fostering, you can find out more information on the All About Fostering website here.
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