May 22 2020
RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Ca.—Zakiyyah Lateef will admit that her six-bedroom home is usually full of children. But she knows there is not enough space there for all the youngsters and teens in need of supportive and loving homes.
Last time she counted 10 years ago; Lateef had fostered about 1,500 kids. By now, she estimates the number is over 2,000. Along with her husband, Abdul Shaheed, the couple have been helping to raise other people’s children for the past 28 years. The experience is worth it, they say.
Lateef and her husband were among eight foster parents to receive the Caregiver of the Year Award 2020 that is given by the Riverside County Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Commission and the Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) Children‘s Services Division. The annual award aligns with National Foster Care Month each May.
“Our resource families are extraordinarily generous in their capacity to provide support and love,” said Charity Douglas, assistant director of Children‘s Services at DPSS. “They answer our calls and open their homes at all hours of the day and night to welcome in children and teens who are suffering from abuse and neglect. They do this with the hope of making a positive impact on kids. Foster families provide a vital safety net to the kids and families in our communities.”
“Mrs. Lateef believes in what she is doing, that her work is important and making a difference in the lives of children,” said Hammond, also crediting Lateef’s husband for his contributions to their success. “They are a great team and their system works.”
Lateef said trust is key.
“I tell them I’m not their Mom but that I am going to take care of them like if I was their Mom”, Lateef said. And she tells the biological parents that she is just stepping in to help them out temporarily, just like an extended member of the family would, while they get things sorted out.
“All that it takes is love, tons of love,” said Patrick Thompson, another Caregiver of the Year 2020 award recipient, who has been a foster father for around five months. “You just have to be willing to open your home and reach out with your heart.”
Offering a stable and loving home to a child or teen in need is an experience Lateef recommends more people embrace. In her view, the rewards far outnumber the challenges. There is a sense of satisfaction in knowing that “our kids are getting what they need.”