Cathy and her husband Perferido have been fostering in Ipswich, Suffolk for around 6 years. Like other foster carers around the country, they specialise in looking after unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASCs).
Fostering unaccompanied children is different from other types of fostering in many ways. Cathy and Perferido have particular skills and experience that makes this type of fostering a natural choice.
The need for this type of fostering is rising in all areas of the UK. Here, Cathy describes how she came to do this type of fostering and what she’s learned.
Cathy qualified as a social worker 20 years ago. She’s mainly worked with refugees and asylum seekers, for local charities and as a social worker since in this time. Perferido was a teacher in the Dominican Republic.
Their previous professional roles have undoubtedly given them transferable skills and experience suitable for any type of foster care – though it was the particular needs of UASCs they have gravitated towards.
“We were interested in fostering for a while and we were hosting international students,” Cathy said.
The opportunity to become foster carers came when they moved to a larger house with a spare room.
“We’re good at making people feel at home, wherever they’ve come from”
“We’re good at making people feel at home, wherever they’ve come from,” Cathy said. “Several languages are already spoken at home, many cuisines catered for. We’re very used to catering to people’s different needs.
“I think we’re also quite good at communicating with people who can’t speak English at all, or who can only speak a little. We find ways of understanding one another.”
Since they became foster carers, they’ve looked after 6 UASCs in 6 years. Cathy and Perferido both work part-time outside the home, so there’s always one of them on hand. Cathy is a youth worker and Perferido is a maintenance person.
Cathy said there’s a cluster of elements for unaccompanied foster children that require particular consideration from their foster carer.
The majority of foster children are in care because of abuse or neglect within their family environment. This can have lingering impacts on well-being and behaviours.
Many asylum seeking children are dealing with more complex traumatic experiences – they have escaped from situations that we might find it difficult to comprehend.
Cathy said: “They might have experienced the terror of war, including torture, violence or death, perhaps of close family members.
“We don’t always know what the children have been through, but we do have to work with it”
“On their journey to a place of safety, they might have been abused sexually or physically. We don’t always know what the children have been through, but we do have to work with it.
“One young person who we fostered had faced war and persecution, had lost their family, and been through so much. We helped them access treatment for PTSD and also to contact the Red Cross to try and find members of their family.”
“Most asylum seekers tend to be older, mid to late teens, though we have fostered an 11 year old,” Cathy said.
“They are more mature and independent. They’ve had to be, to survive, in many cases. They might have been travelling for months to get to a place of safety.
“Also, they might have been used to having more freedoms than children of the same age in this country. Even our 11 year old was very independent.
“Asylum seeking children have different support needs from their foster carers”
“They are often keen to move out into their own place as soon as possible when they’re 16. They know what they want. Sometimes they have unrealistic expectations of what to expect from the UK, because they’ve been lied to by the traffickers.
“So, asylum seeking children have different support needs from their foster carers. They have life skills but they need to learn how the UK works – how to catch a bus, how to book an appointment with a GP, how to live here and create a life. They are keen to learn!
Cathy says language is the main barrier. “Language is such an important issue. Many of our asylum seeking children arrive with very little English or no English at all.
“It’s awkward at first but somehow we all manage to make ourselves understood. It’s important to be patient with them and also yourselves. It takes about 3-6 months but it’s worthwhile when you start to see them flourishing.
“Everyone is so different and everyone learns at different speeds – trauma might affect their learning initially.
“The language of food is important to making a child or young person feel supported and welcome. We went to the market to buy Afghan bread for our foster child. He was so moved we’d thought of it and he could experience a taste of home in his new home.”
Fostering UASCs comes with a new level of complexity and yet is still a rewarding role for the right people.
“Take it case by case, child by child,” Cathy said. “Try to understand their background and influences.
“As a foster carer, you need someone to bounce back on – like your supervising social worker and your local team. Other foster carers in your area will understand exactly what you’re feeling, because they foster unaccompanied children too.”
“Being able to provide a safe place where they feel loved and wanted is a blessing”
“Be open-minded. It is different to other types of fostering but it’s very rewarding. Being able to provide a safe place where they feel loved and wanted is a blessing.
“These children come with issues but they are lovely, they’re very respectful, and they want to be here.”
Cathy and Perferido are still in contact with some of their foster children, including their first UASCs, two Vietnamese girls, and two boys from Afghanistan. Both girls stayed with them under the Staying Put scheme until they were 19 and 20.
“It’s lovely to see how they all get on. One of the girls works in London and the other is studying at uni,” Cathy said.
“The girls are big sisters to my younger children. They all learned from each other. Our foster children learned how to be children and play, and our birth children learned how to be more responsible. Fostering has been very good for our children. It teaches empathy.”
There are many different types of foster care. When you go through the process of becoming a foster carer, you will work with your social worker to decide what’s right for you. It might be fostering unaccompanied foster children or it might be emergency foster care, sibling groups, or remand fostering.
We’re one of the largest independent fostering agencies in the UK, with the resources to support and train you. As our foster carers say, it’s one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things you can do.
If you’d like to find out more, enquire now.