What it means to be family: Sarah's story

When Selam arrived in the UK as an unaccompanied young person, Sarah and her husband Graham welcomed her into their family.

When we had just one of our five sons left in the house, we began to feel that God wanted us to use our home not just for me and my husband to rattle around in, but to welcome others. We prayed about it, and we felt God was prompting us to apply to foster. In some ways this was really daunting for me; I love to care for people, but in a way that allowed me to come back home at the end of the day and have some space and time to myself. Fostering is 24/7, 365 days a year. Could I really do that?! But despite my fears, we made the first step and applied to our local authority to start the assessment process.

The process was quite long - it was very involved and really went into our past. We unpacked how we had been parented, and how we parented our birth children, and were asked all kinds of questions. We’ve heard some people describe the process as intrusive, but we felt that if we were going to be responsible for young people and children who belonged to other families, we needed to be really well assessed. We needed to be absolutely sure, and the local authority needed to be absolutely sure, that we were the right people and that we could be trusted. I actually found the assessment process to be a really good experience. It was like having a debrief of the whole of our lives! We learnt a lot about ourselves, and we learnt a lot about the qualities we would need going forward into fostering. Our panel was a bit challenging – they asked us lots of tricky questions, but we got approved, and we’re still in touch with the social worker who helped us through that whole process. We built a great friendship together.

Selam came to our house when she was 14. For the first few days, weeks, even months, our focus was keeping her safe and building trust together. This took lots of different forms; we looked for ways to get to know each without having to use a lot of language, as Selam spoke very little English when she arrived. We played a lot of games together – Selam was very good, but would always try to let me win. And we cooked together – my husband Graham always remembers that Selam wouldn’t allow him anywhere near the kitchen when we were cooking together, as was the way in her home in Ethiopia!

I’ll always remember that very soon after Selam arrived, we attended my son’s wedding together. She met all of our extended family and friends at once, it must have been so overwhelming for her. Some asked lots of questions, and we had to ask some people to please not ask about her background. Those stories were personal and private, only a few people needed to know what she had been through. One member of our family who Selam formed a particularly special bond with quite quickly was my granddaughter, who was only 6 months old at the time. They would play together and spend time together, and they grew to be so special to one another. I believe that her relationship with Selam has really shaped my grandaughter’s heart, and her understanding and love for others as she’s grown; when our more recent foster child came to stay, it was our granddaughter who went round the house sticking labels on items of furniture with their names in English so this young person could learn new words.

We have so many special memories from our time together. We took some great holidays and shared lots of new experiences. Selam and I spent lots of time doing arts and crafts together, after we discovered quite early on that she was wonderful at embroidery. She had done it in Ethiopia, so we bought the supplies and she would create the most beautiful pieces. It’s been so special to be able to encourage her in her skills and her gifts. Selam has taught and shared with us as well, and we have learnt a lot about her culture and her values. I loved visiting an Ethiopian restaurant together and eating some of her favourite food with our hands like she would do at home.

There were some moments that were fun for me, but not so much for her – I remember taking her sledging in the snow. I loved it, but Selam hated it! She was excited as we made our way to the hill, but after two rides she’d had enough. She just couldn’t stand the cold – even in the middle of summer when we had our shorts and t-shirts on, Selam would be in a coat or hoody.

Then there were, of course, times that were really challenging for all of us, the most notable being the process of Selam applying for asylum in the UK which began very shortly after she arrived with us. It’s such a challenging process for anyone to have to go through, sharing your most difficult stories. Initially, Selam’s application was rejected. They didn’t believe her story. But we believed her. We trusted her. So we fought for her.

There’s a verse in the bible which says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9). I really feel that this is part of our responsibility as foster carers; it’s part of our calling to speak up for young people and children who are vulnerable, whose voices aren’t heard, who don’t hold any power in the system. I will never forget the judge standing in front of the court and announcing, “Selam, you are a truthful person. I believe your story.”

Fostering has made our lives rich. As we’ve cared for Selam and for the other children and young people who have entered our home, we’ve grown in our understanding of others who may have had a different upbringing or different experiences to us, and of what it means to love each unique person in the way that is right for them, in the way that makes them feel accepted, cared for and safe. When Selam moved out, we remained committed to our relationship. She has remained part of our family. Her photographs are all over our home; there are as many of her as there are of our boys. We continue to cheer her on in her work and in everything else she does, and she continues to call us Ema and Abba, which is like mum and dad in her language. We will always be there for her. We will always want her best, and we will always support her to achieve all that God has for her. That’s what it means to be family.

Related pages

Love in action

Love in action

It is well-evidenced that trauma has a deep-rooted impact on our emotional, physical, and social development, which can impede our ability to navigate the world and feel safe.

Read more
Responding to the needs of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the UK

Responding to the needs of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the UK

Home for Good has been deeply saddened to watch the events in Afghanistan unfolding over the past few weeks and days.

Read more

You might also be interested in

A new picture: Adam and Kate's story

Stories

A new picture: Adam and Kate's story

Adam* and Kate* are just beginning to think about what their family might look like one day. They’ve shared with us some reflections after attending a fostering information session.

Read more
Erin's story

Stories

Erin's story

Louise and her adoptive mum Erin share their personal experiences of contact with Louise’s birth dad.

Read more
Louise’s story

Stories

Louise’s story

Louise and her adoptive mum Erin share their personal experiences of contact with Louise’s birth dad.

Read more
Working together in Torbay

Stories

Working together in Torbay

Steve shares his experience as an adopted adult

Read more

Connect locally

I would like to find out what is
going on in my area

Connect Locally

Join our mailing list for the latest Home for Good news and ways to get involved.

Together we can find a home for every child who needs one.

£
Other amount
£
Other amount

£25 per month could help us create and collate inspiring articles and blogs that encourage and inform the families and communities who care for vulnerable children