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Unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people

Unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people

What it's like to foster unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people in Bristol, your role as their foster carer, and how we’d support you.

Children and young people who arrive in the UK seeking refugee status, without their parents or carers, are usually looked after by local councils and placed with foster carers. They have a right to legal aid to support their asylum application

We have several refugee children and young people needing foster homes in our city. We need foster carers to care for and support them in their new life.

Background

An unaccompanied asylum seeking and separated child is a person who, at the time of making an asylum application, is:

  • under 18 or, in the absence of evidence establishing age, appears to be under that age
  • applying for asylum in his or her own right
  • separated from both parents
  • not being cared for by an adult who by law or custom has responsibility to do so

Unaccompanied asylum seeking minors are usually escaping war and conflict, persecution, enforced military conscription or marriage, or extreme poverty.

According to the Refugee Council, they’re usually:

  • between 14 and 17 years old
  • from Afghanistan, Syria, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Albania, Sudan, Iraq or Iran

Ideally, we’d like to place these children with families who come from the same country as them.

The children and young people may have been:

  • orphaned in their country or on the journey here
  • separated from family along the journey
  • sent ahead by their family

They might also have family in the UK, who they want to join.

Your role as a foster carer for refugee children and young people

Unaccompanied asylum seeking and separated children will have emotional, practical and cultural needs that you’ll have to understand and support.

The child or young person will need to come to terms with the experiences that forced them to leave home, as well as the experiences of the journey up to the point of being fostered.

There will also be legal processes to support them through, while they’re applying for permission to stay in the country.

As their foster carer, you’ll need to:

  • give them a safe and supportive home environment
  • offer emotional support and be patient, as they’ll need time before they can start to relax and feel comfortable
  • support them with education, medical appointments, legal appointments, and leisure activities like sports or music
  • be willing to learn about the young person’s culture and religion and make it part of your home life
  • help them build a new life, make friends, and create meaningful relationships

"The three lads I have cared for have been the most pleasurable placements I have had. They are enthusiastic about school, learning and their new community.

I have found it massively rewarding and stimulating learning about faith and culture in order to support these placements, they have taught me so much"

John, short- and long-term carer for teenagers, for 15 years

Things to think about

Lack of information

We may not have a lot of information about these children and young people. They may have travelled with false papers or told not to reveal much about themselves or their past.

The children and young people may be reluctant to trust authority figures, because of experiences of abuse or hardship. Until that trust develops, it may be difficult to get an accurate picture of what they’ve been through.

Age disputes

Children assessed at the screening interview as being under 18 may be a different age from the one they claim, for example 16 rather than 14.

We’ll make a decision as to what age we believe they are before we place them with a foster family. It’s important that you treat them according to that age.

We won’t expect you to be involved in the age assessment process.

Language and culture

The child or young person may speak very little or no English. They may feel unsettled because they’re far away from everything they’re used to in terms of food, culture, and customs.

In order to help the child or young person feel comfortable, it’s important to:

  • establish a way to communicate
  • use translation and interpreting services
  • find out as much as possible about their culture, religion, food, and customs in their country

Finding things they enjoy doing or are interested in, for example music or sport, might be a good way of bonding with them.

Children may come from countries where social customs, education, and culture are very different to those in the UK. Adjusting to a new environment may be difficult for these children and young people.

Trauma

The children and young people are likely to have had very traumatic experiences. Some of these experiences may only come to light after they come to stay with you.

In addition, they’ll be missing or may be mourning family and loved ones. They may be anxious and scared about their own safety.

The children and young people might express these fears and emotional needs in various ways, such as:

  • challenging behaviour
  • lack of sleep
  • eating problems
  • anxiety

Some may have experienced trauma, but be unable to express this or show any signs of distress.

We work with several voluntary and other organisations to support the young person and you when dealing with trauma.

These include:

  • The Haven, a first stop clinic for newly arrived refugees, who offer medical services on issues such as disturbed sleep or eating
  • Thinking Allowed, who offer assessment and support
  • Off the Record, who offer information, advice and counselling services to young people in Bristol
  • The Station, who run support groups and art therapy groups for young refugees and asylum-seekers 

Our Asylum team can also help you find appropriate support, mentoring and counselling services.

Education

It may take some time to get the child or young person a place in school. The child or young person will be at home with you in these cases, so you may need to take time off work until the child can go to school.

The HOPE virtual school will support you in this process.

Support for carers of unaccompanied asylum seeking minors

If you decide to foster an unaccompanied asylum seeking child or young person, we’ll offer you specialist support in addition to the normal support you’d get as a foster carer.

This includes:

  • your own social worker
  • a social worker for the child
  • interpreter support
  • mentoring and independent visits for the child, from a visitor not connected to social services
  • support from the Asylum team and Legal Aid for child
  • support from teams in education, further education, health and therapy
  • specialist preparation training and ongoing training that covers subjects such as the asylum process, how to help with trauma and loss, and accessing education, health and other support networks

Find out more

For more information, you can:

 

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