Barbara & Shazia

from Sheffield

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Barbara Harriott, from Sheffield and her partner, Shazia Noor, have been foster carers with Fostering Solutions since 2007. Barbara was brought up in care herself and has always worked with children, after seeing some shocking statistics about children in care Barbara decided it was time for her to step up and help.

Barbara said: “I grew up in care myself and before fostering I was a local authority education officer, I advised teachers and helped them meet their targets. Targets for looked after children were low, I was so surprise, they were targeted to get one GCSE grade A-G. I thought the target was not met that year. I need to help these children and improve these targets. When I looked even further into the targets I saw that Sheffield was one of the only places that wasn’t meeting it and that there wasn’t very many foster carers in my area of Sheffield at all.

“When we first applied to become a foster carer with the local authority it didn’t go very well, I did not have a coherent story being in care and not knowing my history was a real setback, there were some issues with the assessment process and it really put me off. We ended up not continuing the assessment.

“I knew Shazia really wanted to foster so I decided to talk to someone neutral who could give me some advice about how I was feeling at the time, and a friend recommended Fostering Solutions to us. The application process with them was so different, it was a breeze, we were interviewed, we showed our strengths and experience and were approved. We had our first placement about two or three months after.

“Our first few placements were quite challenging, they definitely tested us. We were placed with two boys, 18 months and 3 years old. They were from Congo, they were autistic and had sensory issues with their mouths; they would only eat yogurt. We then had a 14 year old boy who was extremely difficult, it really made us question if we were doing the right thing and if we were equipped to foster.

“We had a few more placements after that and then we heard about a special little baby boy. Our social worker had spoken about this little baby boy who was four months old and it’d been said that he was highly likely to die. He’d had a cardiac arrest at three weeks old and had no gag reflex which meant he couldn’t swallow or clear his air ways. He had to be hooked up to a machine constantly to monitor his oxygen levels and they also alerted us to clear his airways.

When Shazia and I spoke about taking him in, with Shazia being a doctor and understanding what was going on, she said it’d be too hard but I knew all he needed was a little bit of love. Even if he was to pass away in our care I’d know he’d have felt feeling loved, we could give him the best ending possible.

“We decided we’d like to meet him first to see what we’d be dealing with, we arranged to visit him in hospital one morning but the appointment was cancelled as he was poorly. We told our social worker we’d still like to see him, if we’re going to look after him we need to see him as his worst, so we carried on with the visit. When we got there he was wired up to several machines, he was blind and deaf. We knew we had to take him into our care so we had training with the hospital on how to use the monitors and machines.

“It was a big operation to move him into our home, there was a team of end of life nurses who helped us and who cared for him over night and we’d look after him through the day. There was also a limitation of treatment court order which meant he would be kept comfortable and no further treatment would be offered. This was a very big challenge for us both to understand why this decision had been taken.

“He’s now nearly five years old and very much alive, over the years we’ve taught him sign language, he’s just started to take independent steps and he’s a very joyful and animated little boy. He’s had an operation where we can feed him through a tube in his stomach which has made things a lot easier. It’s been hard but like with any child, seeing him smile and seeing how far he’s come has made fostering worthwhile. It’s been life changing for us all.

“You can always make a difference to a child who can’t live with their own family. No matter how small the change may be, the child will remember it for their whole life. What might seem like a small thing that we take for granted can be a huge achievement to a looked after child. It doesn’t take any special skills to be a foster carer; we’re just ordinary people who open their doors to children who need it.”

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