New Year Honours: Mum and dad to 380 children

By Kara Segedin

Heather May and James Tuhoro say they would have no trouble remembering the names of all the children they have cared for over 16 years - all 380 of them.

The 66-year-old great-grandparents from Hamilton have been given the Queen's Service Medal for their services to foster care.

Mrs Tuhoro said they had no idea they were up for the award, or who nominated them, and only found out when they received a letter with an official Government seal.

"It's hard to describe, it's just amazing, it's humbling. We just love looking after kids," she said.

After living in Auckland for 25 years, the couple returned to the Waikato in 1993 but were unable to find work.

Unsure of what to do and with their love of children, they decided to take up foster care.

They first started looking after babies, but now only take in young teenage boys - an age group difficult to place.

"Teenage boys can be quite challenging with their behaviour and difficult backgrounds."

At present they are looking after four boys.

Mrs Tuhoro said there were many rewards from fostering children - the best was watching them learn and grow, get into school or find a job.

"The rewards are seeing how they change for the better."

But it can be hard to say goodbye - "we have to always remember they are someone else's child".

Mrs Tuhoro still remembers the very first girl they took in 16 years ago. They remain in contact, and this Christmas the Tuhoros were visited by four of their former foster children.

"They ring us, come up to us onthe street and bring their children tovisit."

Andrew, now 22, stayed with the couple for 12 years and works in a rest home. He enjoyed the camping, day trips and when Mr Tuhoro taught him to barbecue.

"I reckon they are really nice and kind people."

Georgina, 20, stayed with the Tuhoros for eight years and is now training to be a vet. She said she always felt like part of the family and that made all the difference.

"I love them to pieces."

As foster parents, the Tuhoros are not paid a wage but the children's board is covered by the Government.

Besides their work as foster parents, Mr Tuhoro is also the chairman of the Waikato Foster Care Association and Mrs Tuhoro is the secretary.

- NZ Herald

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