SUPERMUM Sarah Naish has seen it all as a parent in the last 27 years.
From entering a house with armed police, to rescuing a child from the clutches of an axe-wielding father, to taking on five vulnerable children as a single parent – her story is an inspiration to many.
Sarah began fostering in 1987 by taking on three young siblings in desperate need of help.
She adopted five more 10 years later. Her experiences helped shape the next three decades of her life in social work and as a successful businesswoman by re-establishing the Fostering Together Agency in Stroud. To date, it has helped more than 40 children.
That success has been rewarded with the Woman of the Year title in the Citizen Women in Business Awards.
Her first taste of parenthood came when three young children arrived at her door almost three decades ago.
“Those three were my first experience of dealing with traumatised children,” she said. “There was little support for foster carers then. I was just 25 and had a stepson with my then husband, it was quite full on. I adopted five more children in 1998. All children who are fostered or adopted have special needs to some degree.
“I later qualified as a social worker. Some mothers would have a child every year, one had 13 children, but she was unable to meet the needs of eight of them. I quickly became aware of the large number of children who were in difficulty and got involved with field work and child protection for those on the high end of abuse. On one occasion I went in with armed police to get a child out. The father was waiting behind the door with an axe. It was very traumatic.”
Adopting five children in 1998 was a huge step for Sarah. The youngest was seven months old and the oldest seven. They had been rescued from a background of ‘chronic abuse’. Each was damaged mentally by their experience but Sarah’s love has helped give them a new life. She is now getting used to being a grandmother for the first time, completing the cycle of recovery and stability for her growing family.
“It was particularly traumatic for them all,” she said.
“The older children remembered a lot more of what had happened to them. Traumatised children don’t recognise when they are going to eat next so regular mealtimes are important.
“Abused children who suffer don’t just under-perform in school, but can also struggle in life. In extreme cases they don’t feel temperature or pain. The brain and senses change and almost shut down because the child has become used to neglect. The child stops crying for help to save its energy.
“My children would accidentally cut themselves, but not know until I had told them. Foster parents who take children on from an early age have to teach them how to feel again, and how to trust adults. That takes a minimum of 10 years. It is a big commitment, but you will make a difference.”