The Fostering Network's President's Award is given to people who have made an extraordinary contribution to foster care.
2018 winner: Afia Choudhury
Afia has been a foster carer with Tower Hamlets for 13 years, looking after almost 30 children. Along with her husband, Kamuz, and her four sons, she is currently caring for a group of three children who have lived with them for the last seven years. Afia and Kamruz have extended their home so that these children can remain living with them until they become adults.
Alongside the love, care and commitment she shows to the three siblings, Afia is the chair of Tower Hamlets Foster Carers' Association and offers vital peer support to other foster carers - over the last year Afia had over 460 calls with other carers. She was also instrumental in rallying the carers and supporting them when unwarranted, negative media attention turned on Muslim foster caters in Tower Hamlets last summer. Afia is a mentor supporting new foster carers, and even when their mentoriing relationship finishes she carries on supporting when the need arises.
Afia arranges days out for children and foster families to theme parks, the seaside, sporting event and the pantomime. She is also an ambassador for Tower Hamlets and regularly supports the department in their recruitment strategies, either standing in a busy supermarket giving out leaflets or answering questions at an information session that Tower Hamlets run every month. Afia is so passionate about fostering, she wants everyone to experience the enjoyment and fulfiment that she has over the years.
Ishara Tewary, fostering team manager at Tower Hamlets, said: 'It hs been said that fostering runs through Afia's blood! She is truely an outstanding foster carer. Words cannot describe her passion and commitment to fostering. As well as providing a fantastically nurturing home to three young children who are happy, settled and achieving brilliant things in life, the fostering world also benefits so much from her passion, dedication and positivity. She is such a tremendous asset to Towet Hamlets and to fostering in general.'
2017 winner: Corinne Porter
Corinne started fostering with Greater London Fostering in 2012 when she was only 26.
Corinne, whose motivation to foster came from her own parents who were foster carers from the time that she was six, is a passionate and dedicated foster carer for sibling groups. She has a fantastic reputation with local authorities and the birth families of the children that she cares for.
Corinne is determined to keep sibling groups together where at all possible, and she prides herself on having provided a warm, loving and secure home to the seven sibling groups that she has cared for so far. When children come into Corinne’s care she is quickly able to build a relationship with them, identify their individual needs, and do everything in her power to develop their strengths. When children have moved on, either to adoption or to return to their birth families, they leave with a new set of skills and positive behaviours, as well as cherished memories.
Corinne’s commitment to keeping brothers and sisters together was best demonstrated when a sibling group of three who she had looked after previously needed to return to foster care. The children begged their social worker to be able to move back in with Corinne, who understood the importance of stability for these children and gladly welcomed them back into their home, despite the fact that she was caring for another sibling group already. With the support from her robust support network, Corinne was able to provide care to all five children with her usual mix of patience, energy, love, and fun.
Corinne’s supervising social worker, Imani Bartholomew, who nominated her said: ‘I think Corinne is an exemplary foster carer, she is committed to her own learning, attends so much training and is always available to support other foster carers. She has done fantastic work with sibling groups, with her positive "can do" attitude meaning that brothers and sisters have been able to stay together.’
2016 winners: Claire, Mike and Becci Eynon and Charmaine Barber
Clare and Mike Eynon are exceptional foster carers who have demonstrated commitment and perseverance, alongside an enormous capacity to love and care. The Eynons have been fostering for six years with the Children’s Family Trust and, along with their 10-year-old daughter Becci, and have provided outstanding and consistent care which has meant that the children and young people they have looked after have gone from strength to strength.
The Eynons currently have two young children placed with them on a long-term basis, and they also provide regular parent and child placements, allowing young parents to have an opportunity to care for their children and to develop their skills in a warm, non-critical and supportive family environment. They do this so well that several local authorities specifically request placements with them.
The family’s most challenging time came during their first mother and baby placement, Charmaine and Ajay. Ajay was profoundly disabled, and Charmaine was struggling to look after him. With the help of the whole Eynon family, Charmaine developed an amazing relationship with Ajay and was able to begin thinking about moving out to a place of her own. Tragically, before this could happen, Ajay was diagnosed with a terminal illness and sadly he died at age three.
Charmaine and the Eynons were devastated. But through their grief Clare, Mike and Becci continued to support, love and offer guidance to Charmaine who, they say, will always be a big part of their family. Although she now loves independently, Charmaine is in regular touch with the Eynons and spends family occasions, such as Christmas, with them.
Kevin Williams, chief executive at The Fostering Network, said: ‘We are delighted to be giving the Eynon family and Charmaine the President’s Award. They have overcome so much together and they are a fantastic example of how foster care changes lives.’
2016 Winner: Zoe Witherington
Zoe Witherington first became involved with The Fostering Network in 2013 to support our Don’t Move Me campaign. During the campaign Zoe, between her studies, campaigned hard appearing in newspapers, on television, and on radio right across England sharing her story in the hope of creating a more positive future for other children and young people. This campaign, aimed at securing the opportunity for young people in England to stay living with their foster carers beyond the age of 18, was successful and similar schemes have since been replicated in Wales and Scotland.
Since then Zoe has twice played host to the Duchess of Cambridge - at The Fostering Network’s 2015 Fostering Excellence Awards, and at a celebration tea party for foster carers in Islington. She has also been a member of several young people’s groups supporting projects and programmes run by The Fostering Network. In addition to this, she has been a key speaker at a number of events and conferences, and to this day Zoe shares her story willingly to campaign to make life better for children and young people who are care experienced.
Lynnette, Zoe’s foster carer, who fosters for By The Bridge, said: ‘We are extremely proud of Zoe. She arrived at our home a child full of trauma and loss. We watched her grow and develop, guided her on her way until she no longer required us to hold her so tight. We gave her free rein and she sailed away. Ships in harbours are safe, but that isn’t what ships were built for.
‘Zoe will always remember her past, but her interest in helping others achieve will ensure she also remembers her future which we are sure will be filled with good things. Sail away Zoe but always remember to drop into port each time your passing.’
Jim Bond MBE, president of The Fostering Network, said: ‘Zoe is a selfless young woman who shared her story with the world in the hope of changing it, and she did. She helped to change the world for thousands of children and young people for generations to come.
‘I had the pleasure of hosting the Duchess of Cambridge alongside Zoe and she was an incredible advocate for all young people. She is a shining example of what hard work and dedication can do. Her potential knows no bounds and this is just one success on a much longer journey of success.
'I would also like to pay tribute to Lynnette, and Zoe’s wider fostering family and extended family, who provided her with a home, with love, and with the security to ensure that Zoe could achieve all that she has.'
2015 winner: Richard Dickson
Richard is an inspirational foster carer with over ten years’ experience, the last year of which he has been a mentor for new foster carers. He has also recently started working to support foster carers completing their Training Support and Development Standards and has been chosen to co-train on a safer caring course for male foster carers.
As well as all this, Richard has been an education champion for London Fostering Achievement, working with foster carers, teachers and young people to raise educational aspirations and achievements.
Richard’s supervising social worker said: ‘Richard is a foster carer who goes 50 extra miles for the children. He never says no unless it’s in the interest of the child. He’s an excellent foster carer and no child ever wants to leave his care.’