A Chessington teaching assistant who has spent eight years fostering the borough’s most vulnerable children says “the kids simply enhance you”.

Sarah Appleyard, 41, from Ewell, packed in her job as a benefit fraud officer to become a foster carer after hearing an advert on the radio.

She now works at St Mary’s School and juggles her role as foster carer.

She has looked after a group of vulnerable children – each for at least a year with her husband Paul and children Carly, 17 and Toby, nine.

Mrs Appleyard said: “We have days when it has been really hard, but the positives outweigh the negatives.

“Sometimes you need a break to realise that – because it is a busy life, but the kids simply enhance you. “I want to keep carrying on every time.”

Support from her family has been vital. Mrs Appleyard said: “The child we have with us at the moment, he is staying with us permanently.

“He has got complex needs. Children with complex needs take up a lot of time and energy.

“But as a family we adore him so much. We have just adjusted and taken on ‘caring-for-him’ mode and making sure he gets everything he requires.

“Originally when he arrived we were very restricted because we had to change the way our family worked. We could not get out as much as we wanted or invite people to our house spontaneously.”

But Mrs Appleyard said over the years the family had worked on this and they could now enjoy visitors, restaurants and even caravan holidays.

During her spare time Mrs Appleyard enjoys gardening, baking, walking and entertaining guests at dinner parties – but things have not always been so easy.

She said: “I just love children – I have always loved children. “You get really attached. It’s really hard letting go. Courts make decisions that you just have to accept.”

The foster carer explained her family had been left devastated after losing out on keeping Somalian Muslim siblings who they had cared for for more than four years.

She said: “They needed to be placed within their own culture. It does help them in the long-term and you have to accept the decision.

“It is really, really hard – like bereavement.”

The borough is currently celebrating foster care fortnight.

A spokeswoman for the borough’s fostering and adoption team within Achieving for Children, said: “Sarah and her family are a fantastic resource for us as a service, they are passionate, caring and a true asset to the fostering community.”

On being nominated an unsung hero, Mrs Appleyard said: “We are not heroes. We are just people that enjoy children and have the energy and patience to work with vulnerable children.

“We never feel like heroes. If you are a mum, it’s just what you do.”

Do you know an unsung hero? Call the newsdesk on 020 8744 4273 or email jon.sharman@london.newsquest.co.uk.