“The best thing about fostering is helping children and making a difference to their life,” said Shakuntla Gittins, Ealing’s current Foster Carer of the Year. Could you follow in her footsteps?
“I wasn’t expecting the award. It was so nice,” said Shakuntla. “I recommend fostering wholeheartedly. I’ve always loved children and it is so rewarding. There are a lot of misconceptions about what becoming a foster carer involves but essentially it is all about what you are doing for the children.
“You give 100% to the children – they are part of your family. That’s how you look at it.”
‘Foster care team is really, really good’
Shakuntla currently has two girls with her – an 11-year-old who has been with her for two years; and an eight-year-old who has been with her since November. She has had children of all ages – from five-month-old babies to 15-year-olds; and has had up to four girls at the same time before.
“It becomes easier as you go along and you speak to other carers,” she said. “In fact, I have become very good friends with other carers and we meet each other and chat on the phone all the time.
“Ealing’s foster care team is really, really good and everyone there is great and so helpful.
“You draw on your own parenting experience but also others’ and the key is communication.
“I have a lot of patience and I talk a lot to the children and explain the reasons for my decisions. By talking to them like this you are teaching them to communicate themselves and to have more confidence to talk about things. It slowly changes their approach to people.”
‘I like having that big family feeling around me’
Shakuntla has two children of her own, who are now grown up; but who still take a keen interest. And family plays a huge part in the way she approaches her fostering.
She said: “My mum was a foster carer for Ealing for 22 years and I still take some advice from her.
“In fact all the children call her ‘big mum’ because she sees them regularly, too. She’s brilliant. I used to see how she was with the children and sometimes I would help out – with holidays and outings and that kind of thing.
“Because of her I always wanted to be a foster carer but family circumstances made it difficult until nine years ago and, when the opportunity finally came up, I jumped at it.
“I like having that big family feeling around me. There is always something going on. The foster children get along so well with my family and are all welcomed and made to feel part of everything.”
‘He was like a different boy after that’
One six-year-old boy came to Shakuntla for a short-term stay but was in a bad way. He wet himself and was still in nappies, night and day. It was thought he had mental health problems causing the issue. However, Shakuntla thought there was a medical cause and, after a couple of trips to the hospital and some treatment, his problems were overcome.
“He was like a different boy after that,” she said. “And he then spent 18 months with me and was perfectly well and developing normally. I think it was my biggest achievement; to do that for him. It made me feel so proud and I couldn’t believe it myself how much difference it had made.”
‘I like to know how they are progressing’
Pride in progress achieved for the children, and the bonds created with them, are what keeps Shakuntla going and she is still in touch with many of those she has cared for in the past.
“I like to know how they are progressing and I see a number of them on and off,” she said. “The last two siblings I cared for are still in touch regularly and I meet with them or ‘facetime’ them on the phone. The first two siblings I had here are 18 and 21 now; and they contacted me out of the blue recently after moving back to London, so we went for a coffee and it was really nice.
“I’ve mostly looked after younger children but had teenagers often for short-term respite stays and they seem to have really enjoyed their stays with me, which is lovely. It really is such a rewarding thing to do.”
Interested in finding out more about fostering?
It is Foster Care Fortnight between 14-27 May this year.
Currently Ealing has approximately 100 fostering families, but with around 340 looked after children, more carers from all backgrounds, ethnicity and age are welcome.
To find out more about fostering, go to one of the regular, open information sessions. Alternatively, call freephone 0800 731 6550, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.ealingfosteradopt.co.uk/