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Zara and Rafael’s story: supporting looked after children with religious beliefs

Zara and Rafael's experience caring for young people in Rotherham

Who are Zara and Rafael?

Zara and Rafael have fostered for Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council since 2018. The couple are practising Muslims and support a 16 year old boy to explore his Muslim background too. They have also adopted a younger child who had come from a different heritage. Zara and Rafael had 5 children of their own before they went on to foster for Rotherham.


Why did you choose to foster with Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council?

There are lots of fostering agencies across the UK, including independent fostering agencies (IFAs). Zara and Rafael explored their options before they decided to foster in Rotherham:


“We did look at one IFA. There was a Muslim couple at the Rotherham Show who were foster carers. We decided to put our name forward with Fostering Rotherham. Rafael feels that it is more direct and official working with your local council. Charity starts at home and we are residents in Rotherham”.


What made you decide to foster?

Zara told us:

“We weren’t oblivious to fostering. I was wanting to do something like this and the timing was right. My children were older. The children were at school and I started to wonder what am I going to do with my time.


We just kept conversations about fostering within the household initially. Our children were so enthusiastic about fostering. The girls were like "yes mum we can do this!”.


Zara worked with children with complex needs before fostering, so this helped her make her decision about becoming a foster carer.


“I felt really good about our decision to foster. I was a little bit scared initially”.


Rafael explained that for him the religious rewards of fostering influenced his decision to apply. In Islam, the ‘highest reward’ is to look after and care for others. Caring for others is an act that Rafael believes is a duty or responsibility as a Muslim.


Rafael told us that he was once asked “what have you ever done to give back to our society?” and this really resonated with him and led him to think more deeply about what he could do that would be meaningful.


Rafael told us:

“We have been accepted as foster carers by our community”.


What support did you receive as Fostering Rotherham foster carers?

The couple found Laura, their assessing social worker, to be a great support during their fostering journey:


“We just went with the flow. Laura (Assessing Social Worker) was a big source of support for us, she made the assessment process easy. She explained everything. She felt like an extended family member in the end.


During the assessment, we were asked questions around what it might be like caring for a child who is not Muslim. Our assessor opened our minds to think about things differently (ie: putting up a Christmas tree) and when we thought about it we realised it wasn’t about us, it was about the child. We celebrate the cultural needs of the child in our care”.


What have been the highlights of your fostering journey?

Each fostering family has their own highlights. Here are some of Zara’s and Rafael’s:


  • Caring for a child and seeing them grow and develop.

  • Once you help one child you can help another child or young person - it gives you a boost.

  • We have learned that we are strong-minded but we can also go with the flow.

  • Small things can make a huge difference and help children and young people to feel safe to open up to you.

  • Helping young people to think about things differently.

  • Communicating with children and making sure they know that you care about them.


Have you faced any challenges as a foster carer?

Rafael told us:

“The young person we have been supporting has been a challenge at times. Sometimes young people say what they think that you want to hear.


You have to be honest and not sugar coat things, especially with teenagers. You have to be non-judgemental”.


Would you like to learn more about joining Rotherham’s foster family as a foster carer?

We are actively recruiting for full-time and part-time foster carers to provide care and support to young people in the Rotherham borough.


We encourage you to download an information and financial support guide using the links below. Alternatively, you can book a call back with our team at a time that suits you - appointments are available 5 days a week.

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