When asked to describe what it’s like growing up with foster siblings, 14-year-old Zakarina Ajala says: “It’s just family”.
Zakarina, of Carol Close, Luton, has had more than 20 foster siblings since her parents started fostering when she was two-and-a-half years old. Some have stayed for just a few days, while one boy lived with them for 10 years.
Icknield High School student Zakarina said: “One of my first foster brothers came when I was three and I grew up with him. It was just like having another brother.
“Some people don’t stay as long. When they first arrive you have to introduce yourself, ask them questions about themselves, show them around the house then they just get used to it and they are more comfortable. Everyone just gets along. We play games a lot on the consoles and stuff. I keep in touch with quite a lot of them when they leave and sometimes we have barbecues and they come back.”
Throughout October, the Fostering Network celebrates the vital role children of foster parents play.
Zakarina’s dad Kola Ajala, 52, said: “Both my wife and I came from big families. We were used to having a lot of children around so an empty house didn’t feel right. We thought we might as well look after children who need our help and give them a home.”
Fostering can have its ups and downs but Zakarina says she knows when a foster child needs some space.
Kola’s message to potential foster parents is: “Don’t be scared. You already have the skills to be a foster parent just from raising your own children. If you don’t have children, you still have the skills because every human being can nurture another.”
Foster parent Jaz Gohal, of Dunstable Road, has fostered with Luton Borough Council for around five years.
He said: “We just thought maybe we can try and make a difference to someone’s life. We already had children, but the more the merrier.”
Jaz and Rajinder Gohal have supported 37 foster children on short-term placements over ten years in total.
Jaz said: “One of them is 18 now, she is supposed to go into supported lodgings but so far she doesn’t want to go. You wouldn’t chuck your own kids out. She feels secure and safe here. They are like sisters now with my own daughters, they are quite close.
“If you can give a child who has had a really traumatic upbringing love and security, why not? You don’t have to have a fantastic home, you just need to give them love, care, make them feel safe and secure. It’s not going to cost you anything, and you will be helping someone become a decent adult in the future.”
Kiran Gohal, 19, said: “We have shared our home and our parents to some really nice children. We understand and know that they are trying to help and nurture them and we give them all the support we can. At the moment I am teaching my foster sister the piano. Sometimes it’s sad to see someone leave, but it’s great to have someone new arrive.”
Luton Fostering Service is always looking to recruit new foster carers who can provide in particular, permanent homes for children in care.