HAVING been surrounded by five brothers when she was growing up it had always been Berna Grant's wish to have a large family of her own.
But even she would not have imagined having more than 150 children, the amount that have passed through her Kenton home in her 20 years as a foster carer.
While Berna concedes that fostering is not always plain sailing she says it has brought her unrivalled joy in the past two decades and she has no plans to stop just yet.
The retired former nurse said: “I think I have looked after more than 150 children now but some of those have been in and out quite quickly. Some stay for two or three days but the longest I have had one child for is seven years.
“They have ranged from about three years old to 19, although most teenagers move on when they reach 18. I'm from a big family myself and I always felt that I wanted that too. I have two children of my own but when they were a bit older I decided to get into fostering.
“The first one can be a bit daunting but it has given me such joy and it is so rewarding that it can be quite addictive.”
Berna, who now has seven grandchildren as well, has opened her doors to children from around the world. Some have been unable to speak English and others Berna describes as being 'challenging'.
She added: “I have had children from all different backgrounds and nationalities, children from Somalia, Albania, Afro-Carribean children, English children you name it.
“But irrespective of background every child is different. You need to be understanding, patient, caring and respectful to each and everyone of them. That is the key. I remember, like it was yesterday, the first child I ever fostered. He was a Somali 15-year-old who was desperate to gain his independence.
“He really wanted to break free but I had to try and hold him back and keep him calm. At the time he was definitely challenging, and some of them obviously are. But about eight years ago he found me and came to thank me.
“That was incredibly rewarding. He knew that he had been a bit difficult but understood that everything I had done for him was to help – because I wanted the best for him.
“After leaving me he had built his own home, started his own IT business. He had so much going for him, it was such a joy to see that. We still stay in touch now and there are so many who call or visit, or even stop me in the middle of Harrow town centre to give me a hug.”
On Thursday last week her passion for fostering was celebrated at the annual Foster Carers Award Evening along with other dedicated carers.
Speaking after the event divisional director for safeguarding, family placement and support at Harrow Council, Gail Hancock, said: “This event is all about celebrating the hard work of these ordinary people who do extraordinary things, offering a home to some of Harrow’s most vulnerable young people.
“We wanted to say thank you and to let them know how much we appreciate everything they do for Harrow. It’s also a chance for them to meet with other foster carers and the members of staff who support them.
“It is not easy, but it is rewarding and it is wonderful to hear all the success stories about the children whose lives have been turned around. We’re lucky enough to have a team of 80 foster carers in Harrow but we always need more and I’d encourage anyone who thinks they might be able to offer a child a home to get in touch to find out more.”
For more information contact: Freephone: 0800 064 1000 or visit http://www.harrow.gov.uk/info/159/fostering