When I moved into my new house, my two children were happy because they each got their own room, and I was happy with the space and the layout. Everything about this house was wonderful. I even had an extra bedroom in it!
Now what to do with that extra room? I started thinking maybe I could turn it into a study room, my son probably would want a games room furnished with his consoles, or I could have it as a storage room, or maybe an exercise room…
Then I thought, “what if I used it as a bedroom for someone else who needed it?”
I started considering fostering
Fostering is always looked at a bit skeptically; taking someone into your home when you don’t know their background or their history might make some people worried or uncomfortable. But if it was an opportunity to help a child out there and give him/her a pillow to rest their head on at night, then why not? “Wouldn’t that be a far more productive use of my spare room?” I thought to myself.
Seeking Islamic advice
The first thing I did was to look for Islamic advice on what was permitted regarding fostering and adoption. So I tried to look at what Allah and the beloved Prophet say.
Adoption involves removing and transferring the rights of the birth parents to the adoptive parents whereas fostering provided a temporary placement for children. I was interested in the latter. Having looked into it, I realised that the Qur’an frequently makes reference to treating orphans with kindness.
“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah , the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” [Qur’an: Chapter 2, Verse 177]
I then sought advice from a sheikh who told me that, as long as I did not give the child my last name and they retained their identity, then there was no problem and in fact our beloved prophet encouraged fostering by saying:
“I and the one who looks after an orphan will be like this in Paradise,” showing his middle and index fingers and separating them” [Sahih bukhari]
With that in mind, why not use my spare room productively and help others?
From my experience here in the UK, I want to provide you with some tips on fostering for those who are considering it.
Be prepared for the process
In the UK, there are stringent regulations to go through before you can be a foster parent, but if you persevere and go through them, then the rewards are immense. Some people think fostering is an opportunity to get rent out a spare room but it is so much more than that. It is not an extra bit of pocket money, it is providing a home and a family for someone who needs it. Regulations in different countries may vary, but do expect the process of getting approved as a foster parent to be lengthy, involving regular meetings and regular checkups.
Prepare your family
If you already have children, involve them in the process and make sure you take their views into account. Talk to your children about the importance of sharing and making foster siblings feel welcome. I ensured that I spoke to my two children about potential situations that may arise and the assessment process and made sure that they were involved, since it was their home too.
Alhamdulillah, my children enjoy having a bigger family, and feel that the whole fostering experience has taught them a lot about patience and compromise.
Treat foster children like they matter
Especially if they are teenagers, and to some extent you should try to treat them like adults. If they’ve been in care all their life, then the one thing that they want is control.
The most common complaint from children in care is they can’t make their own decisions, and often they are not consulted about what decisions are best for them. They’re moved from family to family, often separated from their siblings and so making a foster child feel like they matter and are capable of making their own decisions is crucial.
Be prepared for behaviour problems
This is always the main question: How do you deal with behaviour problems?
The honest truth is you work on it, and you have patience.
On rare occasions, the patience of Ayub will be needed where you foster a child with significant behavioural problems. There will be occasions where the behaviour problems are so bad that they cannot be worked on and it may be too dangerous for foster carers to carry on. I have been fortunate enough that in my many years of fostering, I have never encountered any child too difficult to handle, but I know others who have, and the reality of the fostering is that you need to be prepared, and you need to have patience and provide a stable environment as best as you can.
In tough situations, my advice is to work with the child to the best of your ability. You don’t want to kick the child out and force them to move on, but rather look at alternatives such as referrals, mental health services etc, engaging with the relevant agency.
You can’t choose who you foster
Social services will try their best to place children with families of similar backgrounds, however this is not always guaranteed. Similar to what Islam says, you should not try to change the identity of the child, and social services generally feel quite strongly about this.
I remember having a young non-Muslim child who used to copy me pray and this would worry me so much! I immediately informed social services that as a child, he was just copying what he saw around him.
Some have asked me, wouldn’t I prefer to have a Muslim child and my honest answer is actually it doesn’t matter, a child in need is a child, and it doesn’t matter if they’re Muslim or not.
A lot of these children have lived through difficult experiences that we can’t imagine and as a Muslim, you are helping a fellow human being by feeding, supporting, and looking after their emotional and physical well being.
Sometimes a child may be in need of a place to stay just for one night and they will be placed with you.
I have fostered Muslim and non-Muslim children of different ages, some who have been very difficult, and some who keep to themselves. Some of them are refugees and some are not. I had children who have stayed for months and children who have only stayed for a day. But for every day that a child sleeps comfortably in that spare room, I sleep happily knowing that I have put that room to productive use.
Fostering within the Muslim Community
We are at a crucial time where Muslims must now raise their profile of community work and help our fellow Muslims in need.
Most of the time, people are not aware of the process required to foster a child, therefore I urge everyone who is able and has the ability and the space in their house to look for the correct organisation that can help them sponsor a child.
It is such a rewarding experience that can really make a productive impact in the Ummah.
If anyone else has ever fostered before, please share your experiences with us below. What do you think we can do to better serve those in need and maximize our benefit and contribution to our communities and our Ummah?