MOST 80-year-olds have long-since swapped their day jobs for a more leisurely life – but not foster carer Christine Kitashima – one of the latest residents in the county to be handed an MBE.

The prestigious award follows a staggering 27 years welcoming children into her Great Milton home – a career she’s not ready to pack in just yet.

In fact, the great-grandmother even recommends taking up fostering in later years.

She explained: “You are never too old to foster – I think you actually get better the older you are. If you want to start fostering at 60 and then decide to stop when you get to 70 – you’ve just done it for 10 years!”

Read also: Secret Santa Courtney Hughes tops Queen's Birthday Honours list for Oxfordshire

Ms Kitashima took up the rewarding role back in 1992, and is still in touch with the first person she took under her wing.

She said: “There is never a dull moment. I have no regrets. I have a boy who is going back to live with his family – but I’m not losing a child, I’m gaining more family.”

Her fostering story goes back to the 1960s when she was based in Los Angeles and working at a school for autistic children.

She said: “My involvement with the PTA beyond the classroom only started when a lady spotted me at school and said there was another English person and said we should meet each other. We’re still friends today. At the time, she told me I should join the PTA and I said ‘well, that’s just full of ladies that have nothing else to do all day, and go and get their nails done’. She said ‘just come to a meeting’. Now, I can never say no to this lady again.”

Read also: Sixth form rated 'outstanding'

She continued: “I came back to England in 1984 and my children went to a local youth club.

“I started working straight away – we had come back to Oxfordshire on the Friday and I went for an interview at Northfield School on Monday and they asked me to start working the next day. Anyway, one time I went to pick up my kids from the club and the people in charge were having problems with one of the girls, one of them causing trouble went to the school I worked at – which was for children who aren’t in mainstream school because of difficulties.

"She had grown fond of me at school and because she was the one causing trouble I said to her ‘hey cut it out, stop it’ and she did. The main in charge of the club saw me and said ‘do you want a job?’ so I began volunteering there alongside my job.”

Oxford Mail:

She explained her no-nonsense approach meant people respected her judgement.

She added: “When kids gave me grief when I was at the school in America, I would just say ‘hey, I’m not American, I’m English and English women don’t take this’ – you’ve kind-of just got to bluff your way.”

The 80-year-old eventually moved on and started working in a children's home.

She said the leap of becoming a foster carer came when the home began putting more children into the care of families.

And, although she spent some time carefully considering the move, 27 years on said she had ‘absolutely no regrets’ but put her success down to her support network of family, friends and a special fostering partner who ‘understands’.

She said: “Fostering is a team effort, you cannot get this on your own. You can’t do it without a support buddy and you can’t do it without the support of your family. If you were going to adopt and then you have family saying they wouldn’t be able to accept the child as their own you will just struggle.”

And, despite the estimated thousands of vulnerable youngsters who have walked through her door, she has never counted.

Read also: Community diamonds celebrate 60th wedding anniversary

“I have never counted the children coming through the doors.

"Every child has a name, and everyone is an individual. I have never counted.

"If I did sit down and try it, it would take such a long time – sometimes I’ve only had a child for one day or just a night.”

Instead, she counts the weeks, months or years each child is with her.

“I do have that little thing, it’s just something I do.

“I have anniversaries: I won’t do this forever and eventually I will have to retire, but when a child stays with me – once they have been with me for a year we go out for a celebratory meal. I usually do a welcome meal as well.

“When we get to the second year, I ask them ‘would you like to go out for a meal? Or would you like a gift?’ and this one boy I had for two years, he wanted an X-Box game or something, so, I gave him that for the anniversary, it’s nice.

Oxford Mail:

"Anniversaries have always been something really special and we have made it a special occasion.”

She explained her motivation is seeing the young people get a better future.

“It’s so lovely to see the success in people and help them move on with their lives. You do have to have boundaries in place with people who leave, but they know I have to prioritise the people in my house – as I did for them.

“But, I have such wonderful relationships with people and there is never a dull moment.”

Oxfordshire County Council, which runs the fostering services in the county, says there is ‘no such thing as a typical foster carer’.

In fact, much like the children they look after, carers come from a variety of different backgrounds, cultures and religions – and there is no upper age limit.

Read also: The school where young pupils take yoga and visit the 'friendship hut'

The only criteria are that you have to be sensitive, flexible, have the ability to understand challenging behaviour from children, and have a good sense of humour.

Ms Kitashima continued:”When I became a foster carer, my son had to be interviewed because he lived with me at the time and they asked him what it would be like for him when there were more children around. He came to me afterwards and said ‘I just said it’s all I’ve ever known since I was born’. My children are not jealous, neither are my grandchildren.”

The MBE, which she had to keep under wraps for a while, came as an ‘overwhelming’ surprise.

She said: “To be the recipient of such a prestigious award is overwhelming and I did become filled with emotion to receive the news. This is such an honour and I am forever grateful to have been nominated.”

She is now championing foster care.

To find out more about becoming a foster carer in the county visit