I have been involved in foster care now for 25 years and I’ve seen time and again that there has always been a shortage of foster parents in comparison to the number of children in need of foster care in the UK. Currently, however, I am increasingly concerned about how we provide appropriate, culture specific care for not only children born within the UK and but also those coming into Britain.
Although asylum seeking has always been a contentious topic, global developments within the past 5 years have lead to an unprecedented influx of people seeking asylum. And this includes the arrival of an increasing number of unaccompanied minors as well, stirring up a wealth of emotions in the British public.
“They encounter unimaginable hardships, fleeing in desperation, only to find themselves completely alone and often unwelcome in a foreign country, with a foreign culture and language.”
On the one hand, people are feeling disturbed and threatened by the financial and social burdens placed on society as a result of incoming asylum seekers. On the other hand, we all want to contribute to the well-being of people in dire need. So there is a disparity between the sympathy most people feel for those fleeing war-torn zones and the frustration experienced by those already in the UK and their fears about impending financial and social burdens potentially caused by hosting asylum seekers. Above all, however, the most harrowing consideration has to be the psychological and physical trauma faced by asylum seeking children, particularly those who are unaccompanied by adults or family.
And this is where foster carers play a vital role in helping those children in need. But can foster carers cope? The experienced foster carer is often used to housing and caring for challenging children from problematic backgrounds who often resented the fact they had to live with a stranger. But asylum seeking children who are often alone, frightened and bewildered pose a significantly more challenging question. How should we approach the care and support of these children? Many have experienced what no child should: horrific atrocities including murder and death, disease and maltreatment, starvation, abandonment, sexual abuse and rape – more horrors than any average person can imagine. Then on top of this they encounter unimaginable hardships, fleeing in desperation, only to find themselves completely alone and often unwelcome in a foreign country, with a foreign culture and language.
It is imperative to provide a patient and secure environment for these children; they need to feel safe and cared for but often, there simply aren’t the resources or enough foster carers to do the job. Ideally their carers would share or be able to understand the foster children’s culture and language. However, despite the fact that unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors have legal status under the Children Act 1989 and the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 in England and Wales, there is a deficit of foster carers for children born in the UK so the asylum seeking children hardly stand a chance of getting foster carers from their own culture, with their own language. Sadly, many asylum seekers often meet stony gazes and judgment when what they really need is acceptance and peace.
“Every child deserves no less than a stable, secure and healthy environment in which to grow.”
Many might ask the question ‘Are asylum seeking foster children prioritised differently?’ And the answer would be “No”. They are not prioritized as such but they do require a sensitive and needs-led approach to their care. According to the UK Government’s statistics on asylum seeking immigrants, 2,168 asylum seeking children applied in the year ending June 2015, an increase of 46% on the previous year (1,488). These childrens applications represented 8% of all asylum applications in the year ending June 2015.
I have certainly seen a change in perceptions as regards asylum seeking children. As the media brings the issue to the forefront, there is just a lot more communication from the authorities, schools, society in general and of course, foster carers themselves. They need more support and specialist training to understand the culture and language difference of unaccompanied asylum seeking minors and other agencies such as local authorities who need the same awareness to provide appropriate care. Once there is understanding I feel society will always rally round and stop the suspicion surrounding asylum seekers. As we all ‘wake up’ to the need to respond in a proactive way to help integration of asylum seeking children, I am optimistic that these young people will contribute positively to the UK society, as immigrants of all kinds have always done.
For my part, the aim of my organisation, Banya Family Placement Agency, is to ensure that every child in need receives support, emotional guidance and appropriate needs-driven care, and this is every bit as true for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. After all, every child deserves no less than a stable, secure and healthy environment in which to grow.
Nyasha Gwatidzo is the owner and founder of Banya, an independent fostering agency, and Interim Chief Executive of Vana Trust. Beside these endeavours, Nyasha speaks nationally and internationally about social enterprise, and runs workshops on fostering with the Pellin Institute. Triodos Bank funded Nyasha’s first business Imba in the early 1990’s. In July, Nyasha is walking 300 miles from Bumi Hills to Chihota in Zimbabwe for Vana Trust, to learn more and sponsor visit: www.justgiving.com/Nyasha-Gwatidzo1/
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