Series 2 - Fatima Whitbread - Growing Up In Care

Fatima Whitbread

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Fatima Whitbread MBE, Olympic gold medallist, BBC Sports Personality of the 1987 had a tough start in life. Abandoned by her mother shortly after her birth and it was only when a neighbour heard her crying a few days later that the police were called. She then spent the next four months of her life in hospital recovering from malnutrition. She was placed in a care home and spent the best part of the next decade not knowing anything about her parents.

During her teenage years at school Fatima gained a reputation as a troublemaker. However, by the age of 14 Fatima had developed a growing love of sport. After her javelin coach Margaret Whitbread realised she was spending a lot of time with the Whitbread family, she offered to take Fatima in and ultimately saved her. Margaret,who Fatima now refers to as 'mum', adopted her. Fatima went on to achieve the record-breaking successes she is now famous for.

On an emotional journey, Fatima returns to the Hackney flat where her life started to see if she can confront her memories and gain new strength from putting them behind her. Fatima also meets young people in the care system and finds out how things have changed for the better and what is being done to support them.



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Comments (24)

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  • Dancer/care-leaver

    over 1 year ago


    Sarah, I appreciate your honesty. I had so many foster placements, and most of the foster carers did it for money and didn't really care anyway. I lived in 17 placements within two and a half years, and I wasn't a dificult child at all. Social services and leaing care organisations need to think so much more about their children and their idividual needs, it would stop so many young people's lives being destroyed. It has taken a lot to overcome my experience, but I am now 24 and am a university student training to be a dancer :-)

  • Claire

    over 1 year ago


    I would have been really interested in watching this. it was brought to my attention by a fellow potential adopter. My husband and I are currently in the process of adoption and it really does make you feel humble when you hear these very sad stories. We have a very positive take on it, knowing that we can offer a child, love, support and inspiration. Everybody deserves the right to develop and achieve in life. Why is it that some individuals feel they have the right to take this from someone. We just wish we could do more.

  • kathy

    over 1 year ago


    My parents were foster carers from when I was 7. W e had babies to stay for a few months and then they went up for adoption and their place was taken by another.I always wondered what happened to them. I'm nearly 50 now. Sadly I can't be a foster carer myself at the moment but I work in a secondary school and do drawing and talking therapy with 'damaged' children and I do emotional literacy lessons. I would agree with the comments above that schools are not doing as much as they can to help these children. Many are excluded before we complete the course of therapy, as old wounds are opened but not given the chance to heal and this can lead to angry outbursts that can follow a therapy session. Often such behaviour is not understood or tolerated in our target driven system. I applaud Fatima and the others who took part in this programme. You are a real inspiration and raising awareness helps so much for people to understand how it feels to face further reinforcement that you are not wanted or don't fit when things are proving tough. Please continue to raise awareness for the emotional support and constancy that these children's not just the care system that fails them its also lack of knowledge and care and understanding in the pastoral teams in the education system.

  • sandra

    over 1 year ago


    I was brought up in care myself and i love sports ! I never thought i could ever do anything good in my life but watching this episode and reading her autobiography has given me a lot of hope.

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  • Sarah

    over 1 year ago


    I wish I had even a tenth of the patience, love and devotion needed to give a foster child a place. Sadly I know that I can't do it - I have my own child and a small home - but I wish the best to everyone in the system.

  • Nikki Ryan

    over 1 year ago

    Nikki Ryan

    Fatima, you are an outstanding person , and your mum a beautiful soul, I was so very moved by this programme and this documentry has moved me so deeply. I hope more are done to show people out there what is going on- wishing you every happiness and love

  • Hornby

    over 1 year ago


    I too was brought up in care in Manchester mainly during the the 1970's. Out of the five different homes we were put in ranging from big homes with 40 or more children to a family group home, the only one we actually suffered in was the foster home as she closed the house to people from the outside so to hide her abuse.

  • Care Leaver

    over 1 year ago

    Care Leaver

    I am a care leaver and had so many different foster placements in different areas, that I cannot actually count them all. I received awful treatment through out my whole time in care, the ONLY people to help me where a charity called Voice, they're amazing and I recommend them 100%!!

  • helen sharp

    over 1 year ago

    helen sharp

    I missed this, when is on again please.

  • Gloria

    over 1 year ago


    Hi, I think people who are interested in fostering or adoption should be encouraged to do so. My sister has always wanted to look after kids in care but as she needs a spare room, she's not been able to do so. No estate agent has ever given her the chance to get a two bedroom place to start with, the council will never want to help. It discourages people who have the love to help some of these vulnerable ones to have lives to do this. I don't know how to put this, help people who wants to help.

  • cheryl evans

    over 1 year ago

    cheryl evans

    I was in care for almost 14 years and had good and bad times but i had amazing suport when i left at the age of 18 and i do belive more dose need to be done to show that being in care dose not make you any diffrent to anybody else fatima you are amazing in letting people into your past that must have been very hard and i no i would not be able to be s brave as you !!

  • CB

    over 1 year ago


    Inspiration to all people that have been in care, or are still in care, Is it luck these children get fostered or is it the system working well as it should, does it matter what ethnic background you have, when love is given to a child, I was fostered from the age of 2 to a white family all my life and it has not done me any harm, Im accepted in the whole family even now Im a grown women with my own children.

  • Mercy

    over 1 year ago


    Thanks Fatima for the programme about fostering. I have wanted to be a foster parent for a long time. The only problem is that I have to tell the estate agent that I will be using their property for this project. What i realised more than three times is that the estate agents showed keen interest but would let out a property that I have paid deposit for before my next visit. Having a one bedroom flat deprived me from helping kids in need. This is not fair. Help people like me who love to look after children do so by appealing to the London estate agents. Thanks

  • ina wild

    over 1 year ago

    ina wild

    Seen both sides of the care system.. lived it from 3yrs old to 14yrs old. Was a foster carer later in life to 15 children would love to meet fatima whitbread I applaud her bravery in opening up secrets many too afraid to face. Hope many take inspiration. Love has no colour, age nor condition the need to be loved is universal let it be so.

  • Lisa Tiplary

    over 1 year ago

    Lisa Tiplary

    Fatima , you are an inspiration! my heart goes out to you, good on you for all that you have achieved in your life what an excellent role model you are.

  • Frances Mott

    over 1 year ago

    Frances Mott

    I am a play therapist and I work in schools with hurt childre, quite a few of them are looked after children, unfortunately funds are cut to the bone and the government don't seem to care at all about children's mental health. I want to take over a charity that has not done any trading, as you might say for a little while and I need some trustees and people like Fatima Whitbread that can be figureheads, who understand the hurt child, to help fund raise etc.

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  • Julie

    over 1 year ago


    Fatima what a good ambassador for Looked after children you are! Cannot beleive the statistics for children entering the care system- its apalling. Theres a real need for good foster carers- but they need to be supported too.

  • Pierre Gill

    over 1 year ago

    Pierre Gill

    I my self am in care currently and looking to move out in the next 10 months because i'm 20 and the help i have received from social workers are amazing from ages 11-17 but leaving care from 18 year on is ridiculous no help what so ever i am also pleased to see this is being addressed and other issues children have got in care. i hope more can be done to prevent this from happening.

  • Witness

    over 1 year ago


    The schools are doing the damage too, the child I care for was verbally abused at school, I reported it on the day 2011 and they did nothing to address it. I had to pester them to do something, then they reported lies, total fabrication to the social services about me because I stood up for this child. The case is still to be initially looked at by the school. Organisations and institutions can destroy children and family lives with impunity. Ridiculous

  • Lynn Brady

    over 1 year ago

    Lynn Brady

    I'm really pleased to see that more programmes are being made showing how the care system can impact on children and young people. At its best it saves lives - at its worst the damage can stay with them forever!