AS the nation prepares to celebrate Father’s Day this weekend, a foster dad from Middlesbrough is calling on others to consider fostering as the North-East faces an ongoing shortfall of 520 foster carers.

Former taxi driver, Rasub Afzal, 54, from North Ormesby, has been fostering since 2015 with wife Shameen, 54, who works in the kitchen at a local primary school.

Parents to three grown children of their own and grandparents to two, Mr and Mrs Afzal have always had a busy household.

It was after their children had grown up that the couple first thought about fostering and were shocked when they found out how many children in the UK needed a safe home.

The Northern Echo: Shameen and Rasub Afzal urge others to foster. Picture: Nick GeorgiouShameen and Rasub Afzal urge others to foster. Picture: Nick Georgiou

The couple’s first foster placement was a then-five-year-old a boy with medical and additional learning needs, who is still with the family today and will be until he’s at least 18.

Mr Afzal, who gave up his job to be a foster carer, said: “We knew we’d done a good job with caring for our own children and thought we could definitely try and help other children and young people in need.

"I didn’t have any experience with children with additional needs when I started, but fostering has made me more patient and resilient than I ever thought I could be, it’s brought out the best in me.”

“When we first met this little boy, we knew he was going to be a challenge. I asked myself, if I didn’t help him, then who would? I was aware that children with disabilities and special educational needs were often the children that other foster carers might be more nervous to take on, so I knew this little boy needed me.”

Now 10-years-old, the Afzal's foster child requires round the clock supervision and care.

The boy, who is "joined at the hip" with his foster dad, has been diagnosed with autism and struggles to communicate through speech, although is able to express himself through laughter and noises, and now attends a specialist school.

Mr Afzal believes fostering has impacted both the boy's and the family's life for the better. He said: “He’s my son, and always will be. I believe it was destiny for this boy to come to us, as much as I’ve done for him, he’s done more for me. We’re together round the clock, everyone who knows me, knows that wherever I go, he will be with me.”

The dad is urging others to think about how they may able to help a child or young person in need, he continued: “People may not realise they can make a difference. I’m now a foster dad to someone I can’t imagine life without.

"I’ve never thought of this as a job, it’s not a chore but it is my duty to look after him because he needs me. Whether you’ve looked after children of your own before or your new to it, you might have talent that you don’t even realise but could make a huge difference to a young person’s life.”

Discussing the importance of celebrating all kinds of fathers on Father’s Day, Susan Smith, fostering team manager at Five Rivers Child Care for the North East said: “For many children and young people, Father’s Day can be a harsh reminder that they’re part of a non-traditional family unit, and Rasub is an amazing example of a carer who is doing all he can to give a vulnerable child a nurturing, loving home."

“There are so many young people across the region looking for someone they can call family and we’re keen to hear from people across Middlesbrough and the North-East of England who are interested in becoming a foster carer."

To become a foster carer, you must be over the age of 21 and have a private and furnished bedroom for each child, with some exceptions for siblings. Single people, co-habiting couples, same sex couples and people living in rented accommodation can also become foster carers.