The 43-year-old says she is still stunned and “humbled” to have received the award for her services to fostering, which she described as simply her “path in life”.
She has spoken to the Yorkshire Evening Post about her journey over the past almost decade and urged others to consider following in her footsteps – and help meet what is an urgent need in the city for more foster carers.
Since she was approved as a foster carer in 2012, Khairun – together with her husband Sikhander Hussain, 54, a social worker and their son Sami, now 18 – has cared for all backgrounds and ages of children, from babies to care leavers in their 20s, for as little as two nights in emergency placements to four years and counting with her current foster daughter.
She describes fostering as a “way of life” and says: “There’s no job like it.”
One of Khairun’s major achievements is being instrumental in the setting-up – and success of – the city’s Mockingbird Family Model of fostering.
A concept which originated in the US, it creates a dedicated ‘hub home’ of specially-recruited and trained carers – such as Khairun – who offer help, a break, support and joint activities with a ‘constellation’ of six to 10 families of foster and kinship carers living nearby.
Like an extended family, the hub aims to empower families to support each other, overcome problems before they escalate and offer children a more positive experience of care.
Khairun was one of the first ‘hub homes’ in Leeds when the pilot was launched six years ago and the city now has around 10, she says.
Her hub currently includes nine families with around 18 children.
Khairun said the hubs are proving a “vital” help to foster families, with some admitting it’s enabled them to sustain relationships which they otherwise would have struggled to do.
“It’s having that community around you,” she said. “It’s a more nurturing environment for children and carers. There are no judgments. The children know that the other children are in the same position and situation.
“It’s about empowering each other. All these carers come from different walks of life and they bring something special and something different.”
Khairun described how, when her hub was first set up, they were able to come together to celebrate a child’s birthday – the first time he had ever had a party.
“We brought a cake out and he was shocked. He was 14. There were tears rolling down his cheek. It was just amazing and his carer was so happy she could give him a party.”
That early experience showed them how “meaningful” the hub can be – to both the children and the carers.
Khairun’s role is to help to stabilise the placements and she is always on hand to listen to both the carers and children – on the phone or with an open door.
She says it all suits her mothering instinct which she admits means she can become “overprotective” of the children.
“I want to protect them. Foster kids need carers to be crazy about them, to want them to succeed and do the best they can. It’s being able to celebrate their little wins or them having you to celebrate them.”
She said everyone has their own reasons for wanting to foster and shared that hers is having lost her daughter 21 years ago.
Hannah Hussain was Khairun and her husband’s first child, who was born prematurely at 28 weeks and lived for 12 days.
Aged just 21 at the time, Khairun said “life was very different from there on” but she said the love for Hannah is what drives her now.
“Through fostering, I have channelled that love into my job. I feel she came into my life to put me on a path and this is my path. it’s helped me grieve and given my grief a purpose.
“I miss her. It’s made me a more compassionate person.”
Khairun said her role as a foster carer is extremely “rewarding”.
“Even when I’ve been going through some tough times or been a bit depressed or anxious, when the kids come through, my focus shifts. I have purpose.”
“I do feel sometimes they are my saving grace,” she added.
Encouraging others to consider the role, she said the ideal would be have a large enough pool of foster carers to offer all children a “cultural match”.
“Fostering is something we do need to consider. I think children feel much more nurtured in a family environment. They’ve already been traumatised, leaving their family, their parents and then having to go to a totally alien environment I’m sure would be even harder.”
She said: “It’s having that space and not thinking it’s going to be an easy ride. You’re welcoming someone into your family, and you’re also welcoming everything they have been through,” adding: “Fostering is a way of life. You don’t switch off. They are with you all the time and whatever baggage they bring, you share that and go on that journey with them.”
Coun Fiona Venner, Leeds City Council’s executive member for adult and children’s social care and health partnerships, said: “Khairun has made an incredible contribution to the lives of many children and young people and this fantastic achievement is well deserved.
"People who, like Khairun, dedicate their time to caring for others are invaluable and we are grateful for the compassion and dedication of Khairun and all our foster carers.
“There is an urgent need to recruit more foster carers in Leeds, particularly for children aged 11+, sibling groups and children with additional needs. Foster4Leeds welcomes applications from anyone.
"There is no typical foster carer and there are different types of fostering to suit everyone. We give practical support to all of our foster carers and are always here to offer help and advice.
"If Khairun’s story has inspired you please get in touch with Foster4Leeds today and find out more.”
*Foster4Leeds is a 100 per cent not-for-profit organisation and offers a fantastic range of benefits for foster carers.
This includes free gym membership to all Active Leeds gyms, free day trips and residential breaks, free access to a luxury holiday lodge, free access and discounts to local attractions and many more benefits.
The council also offers a comprehensive training package and support, including free counselling services. Financial support is given to all foster carers made up of a weekly allowance and a weekly fee.
Anyone interested can call 0113 378 3538 or visit Foster 4 Leeds.
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