Birdie McDonald, already had three biological children when she first responded to a television appeal for foster parents more than four decades ago.
McDonald has spoken to HuffPost UK about how she stopped siblings from fighting and managed a large family for almost half a century.
McDonald, who was born in Jamaica, was first inspired to get involved with foster care in 1975 when she saw an advert calling for Afro-Caribbean parents.
“I thought it’d be a great idea, so asked the rest of the family, my kids [Winston, Selvin and Sharline] and husband [Evor Douglas], if they would fancy adding another member to the family,” she explained.
“They all agreed and so we went for it.”
I would have had more if it was possible..." Birdie McDonald
The first child placed in McDonald’s care also turned out to be the one who stayed in her care for the longest.
Janet was only six-years-old when she was first housed with McDonald but stayed until she was 18.
As Janet, Winston, Selvin and Sharline stayed put, others came and went - some for only a few hours at a time, when social services had no one else to care for them, and “others have never left” McDonald admits.
With seven brothers and four sisters of her own, McDonald was used to being part of a large family, and wanted to do something rewarding, although she says she wishes she could have done more.
“I would have had more if it was possible,” she said. “But there is only so many people you can squeeze into one house.”
McDonald has some words of wisdom for anyone who questions whether she feels differently about her fostered children compared to her biological ones.
“I would tell anyone thinking of fostering that if they are not able to love the children as their own, then don’t do it,” she said.
“You must show them love and be very, very patient with them.”
And being patient comes with it’s own challenges, as McDonald explains fostering often lends itself to having lots of “different characters” under one roof at any time.
“There were a quite a few issues that needed to be dealt with,” she explained.
“But most of the time it was a case of listening, really listening, as some of the foster children had never had this before.
“Also letting them know that someone cares and is there for them, that you’re on their side, this makes a world of difference.
“As well as laying down the law when it was needed and not being a pushover.”
Despite some times of difficulty, the mother says that she would never have changed her decision to keep fostering.
“Don’t get me wrong it’s hard, very hard at times, but the rewards outweigh the hard times,” McDonald said
“And seeing a child leave you, knowing that you’ve made a difference to their lives for the better, is the best feeling in the world.
“I often wondered how their lives would have been different if I hadn’t fostered, the house would have been a lot quieter that’s for sure, but talking to my children now they’re glad we did what we did as a family.”
For others who are considering undertaking a fostering journey, McDonald has one piece of advice:
“My motto has always been keep listening and learning, and that’s what I’ve done my whole life.”
Birdie McDonald is currently working with TESCO on ‘Food Love Stories’, which explores the special role food plays in people’s lives. You can watch Birdie’s story and get her unique recipe here.