“There should be enough love to go around”

Author: TACT Fostering

Kusi – TACT Foster Carer since 2012
East London

I have always worked with children and young people in different environments including play centres, youth work, mentoring in schools, Connexions, Youth Offending Team and working on estates with gangs. So fostering was an obvious next stage for me.

From a young age my two birth sons, Zachariah and Maxwell (pictured), have divided their time between their mother and I.  They knew that I worked with children and young people and understood that some children are vulnerable and needed help. I remember talking to Zachariah who was 9 years old and Maxwell who was aged 7 about the fact that I would be fostering and having a teenage boy in our house.  I explained that we would still do the same things, but there would be another person joining the family and participating with most of the stuff that we did together.

Zachariah felt it would be cool, he is football mad, and he told me that it would be great to have somebody older to play football with and go to watch Arsenal together, plus watch him play football for his Sunday team. He told me that it would be like having another big brother in the house.

Maxwell was more cautious and apprehensive than his brother.  He asked “What if the foster child did not like him and was horrible to him?”. He was also anxious that I would spend less time with him and more with the foster child.  I can remember telling Maxwell that the foster child may have the same feelings, and there was no need for Maxwell to feel vulnerable with the arrival of a foster child.  I assured him I would always be there for him to talk about any negative thoughts or feelings he might have regarding fostering.

The first foster placement I had was a British boy from Hackney aged 15, who stayed with me for three years. He’d had a troubled childhood, being in care since he was little and had a history of skipping school. He was also involved in substance misuse and running away from his previous foster family.  There were challenging times especially when he got in trouble with his school or the police, but I tried to take a firm, supportive and patient approach. It was so satisfying to see him eventually settle down at school and then continue onto college. It was difficult to control what he was doing outside of the family home but when he was with us at home he was good, playing football with my boys and going bike riding in Epping Forest. They were all passionate about football, my foster son would watch Zachariah and Maxwell play for their Sunday team, talking to the boys on the importance of training, showing them football skills and giving tips on football during a game. My foster son was good at football and my boys loved to watch him play, so I would take Zachariah and Maxwell to watch him taking part in some college matches after school.

My next foster child was an Albanian asylum seeker. I decided to have a change from fostering inner city young people and thought my family would be able to support asylum seeking young people in their recovery and helping them settle into their new community. He travelled from Albania through Europe to the UK on the back of a lorry. When he arrived I found out through talking to him about his situation and why he was seeking asylum.  He had been begging on the streets in Albanian after being kicked out of his home due to his poor relationship with his father. He told me that his father beat him regularly and one day he decided to run away from home.  He did not speak English and did not have any family in the UK.  He was not in a gang like my first foster child and he wanted to learn. I knew my boys would set a good example for him and support him to get through the early period of being fostered and living with us. We had to teach him how to take care of himself including safety, personal hygiene, cultural needs and getting to know the area.

My foster child was not used to daily bathing and teeth brushing. Fortunately, Zachariah and Maxwell convinced him that washing and brushing his teeth every day was a normal task that had to be done. Zachariah and Maxwell also took him to the local parks and we went swimming and cycling together. My foster child had never had a McDonald’s meal and was keen to try it. I can remember Maxwell helping him to decide what to have and encouraging him to have a Big Mac meal with a chocolate milk shake and apple pie, his favourite, which my foster child thoroughly enjoyed.

As my boys got older, I could see that their understanding of fostering and engaging with a foster child was better.  Zachariah learned about Albania culture, food, music and the passion Albanians have for their country.  My foster child could not speak English so Maxwell took it upon himself to teach him. Although my foster child was 16 years old and had not been in school for a while, Maxwell who was then 12 years old, was able to help him with his homework. Maxwell would spend time before dinner on certain evenings to help my foster child with his Maths and English homework and would initiate conversation using objects in and around the house to help my foster child learn English. My foster son learned English really quickly, including picking up some amusing street talk and phrases from my boys, and friends he met at school, like “Fam” and “Respect Boss”.

All my foster children have done many activities with my birth children like boxing, football, bike riding, restaurant meals, go-karting, trampolining, roller skating, Go Ape, cinema, swimming and athletics.

I have always taken my boys on holiday in the summer, and if I can get agreement from social services I have also taken my foster child with me, and they have had some fantastic times in places like Cyprus and Gran Canaria.  In 2019, I took another foster child, who was from Hackney, to Turkey. It was amazing seeing a Hackney boy who had never been abroad embrace the culture and people of Turkey with my boys. Zachariah and Maxwell spent quality time with my foster child engaging in fantastic water activities on holiday like paragliding, jet skiing, snorkelling and boat tours.

My former foster child (‘MC’) is 20 years old now and will qualify as a plumber next year, which I am very proud about.  I paid for driving lessons for him, he passed second time and I helped him buy a decent car. Zachariah had the same driving instructor and he passed first time. There is an ongoing joke between Zachariah and MC around who is the better driver when they meet.  MC still comes to my house when he knows I am cooking and will eat with my boys like nothing has changed, as if he is still being fostered and living in my home.  MC will mow my lawn, and often he will take Zachariah and Maxwell to Creams, Nandos or go-karting.

Juggling my time both with my sons and my foster children has been challenging, but I manage to spend quality time with each of them and sometimes together. I believe it has helped teach Zachariah and Maxwell how important it is to help others, especially foster children in our home, and to give back and enhance each other’s lives. Zachariah and Maxwell have always wanted to know my foster child’s story, asking me questions, learning to be compassionate and trying to understand what my foster child has been through and what they are missing in life.

Yes fostering can be challenging, but seeing the difference you can make to a young person’s life is so rewarding. My home is a happy one, and Zachariah and Maxwell have been able to adapt well to fostering situations.  Maxwell has realized and told me that there should be enough love to go around in fostering.

You too could make a difference to young people’s lives, like Kusi and his sons. To read more about fostering teenagers, click here. If you are interested in fostering Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children, click here.