Originally starting in 1998, this weeklong arts, cultural and educational event takes place around World Refugee Day on June 20th and is a direct reaction to the negative attitude towards refugees and asylum seekers in the media and society in general.
The countrywide event aims to encourage events that create positive encounters between the general public and refugees to help defuse hostile feelings and foster a greater understanding, while also highlighting the talents and expertise that refugees bring to the UK.
Why is this important to a fostering agency such as ourselves?
The improvement of relations between refugees and UK nationals is something that we at Capstone Foster Care believe in wholeheartedly. As an independent fostering agency, we work with local authorities all across England and thus have first-hand contact with many children and young people that enter the country as refugees without their families, and we understand the struggles and difficulties they can face entering a new country.
Also known as unaccompanied and asylum seeking children and young people, these individuals are forced to leave their homes due to the impact of war or other natural or man-made disasters. They often have had little or no protection from harassment or persecution because of their religion, race, political beliefs, social group, or nationality and have little choice but to become refugees and asylum seekers to escape these potentially life-threatening situations.
The journey to the UK for these children and young people can be arduous and full of dangers. Once they arrive in the country, their ordeal is still far from over. There are legal processes to go through and endless bureaucratic red-tape that needs to be navigated.
Often, unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people are sent to live with a family member or friend in a foreign country. This means they can live in an environment that is familiar to their own; one that shares a language, culture and faith. It isn’t always possible to do this, however.
In instances where the child or young person has no-one who can take them in, they are taken into care by the local authority and placed into a foster home. This is a very different situation to the one faced by many looked after children in the UK, as children and young people fleeing war and disaster were not leaving a difficult home life, but rather a life where their family life was secure but the world around it was not. This naturally means that the requirements for care differ from more standard placements.
Many of the existing requirements of foster care are amplified when a refugee child or young person is involved. While patience, compassion, and understanding are essential for every placement, with unaccompanied children fleeing dangerous homelands, special training is needed to help support a child who has gone through such events. Also required is an understanding of the child’s culture, and an ability to support that culture.
While there are many different cultures present in the UK, there is still an underlying British culture present in all things; be that institutions, organisations, climate or community expectations. These are all part of a child’s understanding when they are born and grow up in the UK, but for someone entering the country from elsewhere, this is not the case.
In the case of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and young people, they may be more used to a life of violence and danger than the culture of the UK. Not only have they been forced to leave their loving family and friends – who may still be in very real danger – they have also had to leave the home in which they may have grown up. They now also live in a strange land with a strange language and culture where they do not feel like they belong and which may struggle to accept them – nor do they know how long they have to stay there or if their family are safe. This adds a lot of stress to an already stressful situation and part of our job as foster care providers, is to help minimise this stress.
When such a child or young person comes into our care, we do our best to place them with a foster family who, as closely as possible, match their culture, language and religious beliefs – helping to minimise the changes the individual will have to contend with and so minimise trauma, but this isn’t always possible.
When this can be done we have received a lot of positive feedback from unaccompanied children placed in care, by building feelings of belonging and inclusion within the foster family our carers were able to create a nurturing environment where the looked-after child could find some comfort and peace.
One way this can be achieved is by creating a supportive atmosphere where a looked-after child can feel that their experiences and situations are recognised, but not one where they feel pressured to talk about it if they do not want to. Though, on the other hand, it is important that they are able to talk about it if they want to.
Fostering an unaccompanied or asylum-seeking child requires a deep level of compassion to help heal the trauma they have experienced – both internal and external. They are also likely to be homesick, even if their native home is now nothing like they remember due to external factors.
As a looked after child in the UK, their life is filled with questions. They do not know if the UK is to be their new, permanent home, or whether they’ll be able to return to their native home. Nor do they know if they’ll ever see their parents or the rest of their family again.
In these situations, the foster carer needs to provide a solid and comforting environment that also provides an echo of the child’s culture. The foster parent has to protect the child’s heritage while also preparing for the possibility that the child may ultimately have to stay in the UK and showing the child that this can be a positive outcome.
Some foster parents will already have awareness and experience of the type of support that unaccompanied or asylum-seeking placements need, whereas other carers might not have that background. In these situations, we provide these carers with the training that they require to highlight the needs of unaccompanied children of young people, as well as the roles and responsibility of the foster carer.
Either way, our fostering team is on hand 24/7 to provide the support required so that unaccompanied children can be provided with the safety and suitable care that they need.
Ideally, we would always be able to provide foster carers who match the cultural and language requirements of the unaccompanied child. The reality of the situation however, is that this isn’t always possible and so all of our carers are trained to be able to make themselves culturally aware of the child’s background in order to understand their needs.
Foster carers will also need to provide support to access educational opportunities for the unaccompanied child in their care. They must also be ready, willing and able to help them learn and to excel and develop. While the placement may not be a permanent one, it is easily possible that the looked-after child will grow into adulthood during their time in foster care. This type of foster care requires that carers find a delicate balance between living in the now and providing support while also preparing for an uncertain future.
As with any kind of foster care placement, unaccompanied children and young people require an environment where they can build their self-esteem and build friendships and relationships with those around them.
Foster families should be able to provide a living space that offers safety and support. Foster parents that have cared for older foster-placements before, know of the need to make a plan for life after foster care. Will the child be returned to the birth family, placed for adoption, or remain in long-term care? Making a plan for the child is part and parcel of the whole fostering experience.
With refugee or asylum-seeking children, there are many more possible eventualities that need to be planned for. Will the child be returned to their family in their native land? Or will they be given indefinite leave to remain in the UK – potentially without a family? It is important then, to make a plan to meet the needs of the young person while also considering potential legal requirements for their asylum application as well as the possibility of the child’s future movements.
Looking at a case study of an asylum-seeking child from Albania gives insight into the reality of fostering in such a situation.
“As foster carers, we aim to change a child’s life, we provide them with all the necessary tools to pave their way for a better life, and that is the stereotype of a foster child, a child who needs you, who needs your life experience, your love, your care etc. But some children in care have a lot to offer too, children who you can benefit from their experiences, their personalities, their way of thinking and their moral convictions.
In my personal experience, with the foster child placed with us currently Aseldeen, he affected my life, he made me see the world differently. I am a Muslim, a non-practising Muslim, and that means I do everything as a Muslim except praying 5 times which without them I am not a true Muslim.
This boy moves in, and he just made us feel so small, weak and incomplete. Whatever he is going through in his life, being a child in care, away from their homeland, away from his loved ones and living in uncertainty every day, however, he never gave up his prayers or drifted away from his religion. I see this boy waking up early morning to do his dawn prayers, he never misses a prayer and when he does he gets very anxious, I give him credit for his commitment, punctuality and most importantly his beliefs, we all do; me, my wife and my children.
One day, me and my wife called him to the living room, I gave him a big hug and I told him: ”Thank you so much, you don’t know what you have done for us, we have been waiting for you for a very long time.” I explained to him what I meant and that his way of life made us reflect on ourselves and especially on our relationship with God. He was happy for us and he said it is good to pray because that is a fundamental element of Islam. For me, that is a life-changing act, I feel good about myself, I feel closer to God. And that is thanks to Aseldeen, I wish him all the best and I will never forget what he did for us.”
There are many obstacles that an unaccompanied child or young person must overcome when entering the UK as an asylum seeker – and there are still yet more to deal with when they are here. Issues to consider are the language barrier, the isolation from their own culture, new foods, new surroundings, all the official forms to complete, and a new home. There are also so many uncertainties. Will this be their new home in the long-term? Will they ever see their home country again? Is their family safe? Will they ever see their family again? If they do, will they return to their family or will they be reunited in the UK?
This is why we believe in the positive work done by World Refugee Week to help bridge the gap between refugees and UK natives. Everyone deserves a safe and loving home, no matter their origin.
If you want to find out more about how you could help by becoming a foster carer, please contact the Capstone team today by filling out an enquiry form, or call us on 0800 012 4004.