Sally has been fostering for Warwickshire County Council for seven years and has been caring for Abdul since he arrived as an unaccompanied asylum seeker last year aged just thirteen.
“I did have initial concerns the first time I looked after a child from another culture because I was apprehensive about what food they would like, if there would be a language barrier and if I knew enough about their religion. I was also worried about them being homesick or traumatised but the council runs a special course for foster carers about young asylum seekers and it really helped.”
She says, “Abdul was very bewildered when he first came to live with us and he was in a state of shock. It must have been very different for him to live in a house where we lots of material possessions and used a lot of technology.
Although Sally had experience looking after two young people from Eritrea previously, but Abdul was the first child she had looked after who didn’t speak English at all. However, Sally and her family used a variety of communication skills.
“You often find when you are on holiday that kids are wonderful at communicating with other children even if they don’t speak the same language and that is exactly what happened with Abdul and my own children. I previously did a course in Makaton which was also very helpful as I used a lot of sign language at first. We also got some great support from the Virtual School for Looked After Children and their staff would not only help with language skills but they would teach him about our culture, the local area and how to get around.
“Abdul picked up English incredibly quickly although he only came to live with us in February, he started school in April. As his English progressed I’d write out a sentence and he would then go on the computer to use a translation service on the internet.
“Abdul is doing really well at school and he is in the same year as my son so they travel to school together and have some of the same friends.
“I think the only thing that sets Abdul apart is that he is more mature for his age because of his experience of life. He is very respectful towards my husband and myself and his teachers have commented on how well behaved and polite he is.
“Of course he comes from another culture and has another religion. When he arrived I got advice from a shop run by the mosque in Coventry about what he might need and I bought a prayer mat and a copy of the Koran so that Abdul could worship and we offered to take him to the mosque.
“I think some foster carers are daunted by what food they will want but it’s really quite easy when you get into it. Obviously he won’t eat pork but Abdul will eat a lot of the same things as us – he eats lots of pasta and bread and he will also cook for himself if he wants something different.
Sally recognises that there are many negative stereotypes about young people seeking asylum but she thinks people should think about the circumstances that have led children here.
She says, ”When I introduce Abdul and say he is from Afghanistan it’s not a problem but I know that if I said he was an asylum seeker I would get a different response.
“A lot of people don’t know what they have left behind. As a mother I cannot imagine what it would be like if I had to send my 14-year-old son on his own to another country so that he would be safe. It must be terrible not knowing if your child will make it or if they are still alive. Young unaccompanied asylum seekers are children at the end of the day and they need support.”
“Abdul is a lovely lad and the whole family has benefited from him being around. I think being a foster carer and the training that you receive also helps you to be a better parent.
“Our children have a better appreciation of what they have and think about what their lives could be like if they were less fortunate. They have also developed their own confidence by helping to teach Abdul how to do things and they have found it really exciting having someone new here.”
“I think you need to have patience and understanding to care for children from other cultures and it is as much a learning experience for you as it is for them. You need to be flexible and thinking creatively to deal with situations and its very important to get all the advice and support you can from the council and other foster carers. To care for these young people you need to be prepared that they will have experienced something very traumatic and you may see this in their behaviour, but they are unable to talk about it with you. Caring for young people from other cultures brings different challenges to general fostering as the young people have different needs around communication, education and culture, but the rewards can be remarkable for foster carers and their families as you can help a young person who has experienced something unimaginable to build a new life and feel safe, cared for and part of a family.”