There’s not much that loving mum Babs Bower doesn’t know about children - because she’s been ‘mum’ to an incredible 128 of them over 37 years.
Seventy-two-year-old supermum Babs has been a foster carer for West Sussex County Council since 1970 and now her long years of nurturing have won her special recognition with the award of an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours.
And big-hearted Babs, of Patching Close, Ifield, is still fostering vulnerable youngsters. “I just love babies,” she says.
She first began with husband Bill when the couple thought their family was complete after the birth of son Billy, now aged 50. “I presumed that was it,” said Babs. “Then I thought ‘hang on, let’s look after others’.”
She and husband Bill went on to have two more children of their own and adopted another while fostering scores more, with a 10-year break in between while focusing on their own brood.
“I’ve never had an empty house,” says Babs. She and Bill looked after many under the age of five, many of them siblings.
Sadly, Bill died four years ago, but Babs - now a proud granny - was determined to carry on and has no thoughts of retirement. “Now I just look after babies. I love new-borns.”
In earlier years, Babs said she often found it difficult to say goodbye to the youngsters in her care when it was time for them to move on.
“But you know they are going back to mum or to a relation, or they are being adopted - you meet the people they are going to. It’s not like handing them over to a stranger. You know they are going to a better place.”
She revealed that she often had tears in her eyes as the moment of farewell approached, but she was brought back to earth by her own children who would ask: “Who are we getting next?”
The most youngsters she ever looked after at one time was five, along with her own four: Bill, Nick, Rod and Nanette.
Now, as well as looking after babies in need, Babs also runs a toddler group - Squeals on Wheels at St Margaret’s Church, Ifield, along with Sunday School for pre-school age tots.
And what of her MBE? “When the letter arrived informing me of it, I thought the family was having me on. I said to my daughter ‘is this for real?’ - and she said ‘yes, it is’.”