Manal Shehab is a Muslim Australian community leader, counsellor and advocate working across Melbourne and Regional Victoria. She sat down with Fostering Connections to talk about foster care, and why we need more carers in the Islamic community today.
Tell us a bit about yourself and the role you play in your community.
I am a counsellor, educator, author and proud mother of eight children. I work predominantly as a faith based counsellor and advocate for victim survivors of family violence and their children. I also run seminars and workshops for families who have loved ones effected by alcohol and drug misuse in the broader community.
What does being a community leader mean to you, and what motivates you to help others?
Being a community leader means having the trust of the community. I have been an active member in the community for over 30 years, starting at my children’s school and then expanding to support young girls in the community who are disempowered or have experienced some form of family violence. I am passionate about ensuring women are heard, believed and respected, and have completed a counselling diploma along with a Cert IV in Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol to better support the needs of women and families.
What inspired you to raise awareness about foster care?
In our community, there are children who can’t live with their family and are not having their cultural and religious needs met. One Muslim family recently approached me needing temporary foster care for their children. They told me they couldn’t find a Muslim household where their children could stay. I sent out a Whatsapp message to the broader community, and it went viral.
I ended up with calls from every state and even as far as Pakistan and Lebanon from people offering their homes! I have since had a few vulnerable mothers from our community contact me in need of respite care because they were going into hospital or having mental health issues, and needed a home for their children. I wanted to help them in some way.
Why do you think we need more foster carers from the Islamic community?
We all need a strong sense of identity and belonging. It is vital to connect children with likeminded people that can help them thrive and maintain strong connections with their culture and faith. These values help guide our children and give them strong sense of connection to a wider community. It also makes it easier for children to reconnect with their family if and when they are reunited.
What would you say to people from your community interested in foster care?
Becoming a foster carer can be a long and involved process. However, if you hang in there, there is support available to help you along the way, and the reward you get from supporting children and young people is immeasurable.
Interested in finding out more? Call the Fostering Connections enquiry line on 1800 013 088 to ask your questions about foster care.