Grandparents Shakeel Ahmed and Zahida Bibi are encouraging other Asian parents to help transform a young child's life.

The couple, from Birmingham, initially provided short-break foster care to ‘Aaliyah’ (not her real name) before becoming her full-time carers.

At first she rarely wanted to leave the house but today her favourite activities include trips to the park to watch the ducks, and parties in the garden with her friends.

Now the couple hope to encourage even more families to open their homes and their hearts to vulnerable children and young people.

Shakeel, aged 51, and Zahida, aged 55, were introduced to the concept of short-break foster care when two of their own children were born with life-limiting conditions and the family needed some additional support.

Sadly the children passed away but the couple were inspired by the help they received and decided to become carers themselves, joining the Barnardo’s West Midlands Fostering & Short Breaks Service.

They were matched with Aaliyah, a young girl with a life-limiting condition and profound disabilities which confined her to a wheelchair, in 2011. 

They provided respite care once a month, for four nights, taking responsibility for all aspects of her care.

The placement was such a success that they were invited to become her full-time foster carers a year later, in 2012, and have been looking after her ever since.

Today they have three children and five grandchildren but they treat Aaliyah as an integral part of their family.

Shakeel said: “Our own children had grown up and we enjoyed looking after Aaliyah, so we were happy to welcome her into our home.

“At first she didn’t like going out but we wanted her to be included in as many activities as possible, and now she loves it.

“We’ve taken her to the cinema, circus, hotels and even Disneyland Paris, but she really likes going to the park. She enjoys the fresh air and seeing the ducks.

“In the summer we invite her friends to parties in the front garden with musical instruments and a bubble machine. She can’t speak but she giggles and laughs, and seeing her smile makes our day.”

Shakeel and Zahida have provided Aaliyah with opportunities to understand and be part of her Muslim faith and Pakistani culture, such as listening to Asian music, wearing Asian clothing and celebrating Eid. 

They receive ongoing support and training from Barnardo’s, with regular visits from a key worker and the opportunity to meet other foster carers and share their experiences.

Zahida said: “Barnardo’s has always been there for us whenever we’ve needed any help, such as providing respite care when we’ve had to deal with a family emergency, and the regular visits are very reassuring.

“Of course there have been a few challenges along the way, especially in the early days, but we’ve always known that help was available and we can confidently say that fostering has been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

“We’re so proud of Aaliyah’s achievements. Seeing her happy makes us happy.”

Asian Image:

Former Newsround presenter Sonali Shah (pictured) is supporting the new Barnados campaign which launches Monday.

She said, “Life can be tough, and being a kid can be really tough. Everyone has bad days and knowing someone is there for you – whether they are family, friends or someone else - is so important.

"Having that support can give you the boost you need to overcome difficult situations and achieve your dreams.”