Fiona and Peter – TACT Foster Carers since 2017
London and South East
Neither my husband Peter nor I had really considered fostering, but after seeing images on TV of people fleeing the war in Syria, we wanted to offer a room in our home to a refugee child escaping conflict or persecution. Also, my husband – a family solicitor, had a client who fled Nazi persecution as a child during WW2, and we were inspired by how seeking asylum in England had literally saved her life.
We soon realised that to help unaccompanied children seeking asylum we would need to become foster carers, and so we chose TACT as our fostering agency because they are a charity and we liked their ethos.
Having completed the training and been approved to foster with TACT, we excitedly welcomed our first foster child Hayat, a teenage girl from Ethiopia, in February 2018. We were confident from the beginning that we were doing the right thing. Our own children had had the opportunity to talk through their feelings and concerns with one of the social workers from TACT, and we were looking forward to offering a home to another young person.
There was some initial confusion with the social services when Hayat first arrived, as she was due to be dispersed under the National Dispersal Scheme (NDS) and she did not want to be moved on again as she had already spent six weeks with another foster family. Fortunately, she was eventually permitted to stay with us, and right from the beginning Hayat was an easy addition to our family. She did not speak English at the time so much of our early engagement was exploring what she enjoyed eating (with the help of Google translate) and developing a plan for her future. I remember showing her British money and explaining roughly what a £1 coin could buy you. It was about finding out what specific facilities would be useful to Hayat in helping her settle down, for example a mosque that other Ethiopians used rather than just the local mosque.
The real challenge for me was finding a daily plan for Hayat as the local school would not take her due to her language difficulties. We had to rely on volunteer programmes including an Ethiopian Woman’s Group which had various activities.
In time Hayat told us about her extraordinary and very arduous journey from Ethiopia through Sudan, Libya, Italy, France, finally arriving in the UK several weeks later. She is the youngest of three children, and when her eldest brother was seized by the authorities and put in prison due to political affiliation, she fled Ethiopia with her other brother for fear of a similar fate. I cannot imagine what it must be like to have to flee your own country as a teenager because of the threat of persecution.
Hayat is now 19 and continues to live with us. It has been wonderful to watch her blossom from such a vulnerable point into a confident young lady with so much to offer. Unfortunately, due to her immigration status, Hayat was for some time not allowed to work so she volunteered at the local charity shop. One unexpected plus has been the positive effect of having a foster child on our youngest (birth) daughter who was only four when she arrived. They have a wonderful friendship which will no doubt continue for years to come.
Hayat has enjoyed eating English puddings as they do not have puddings in Ethiopia. She is now the Apple Crumble Queen as she has learnt to make it better than me! She has completed level 2 English and will return to college in September. Hayat is also now a mother to a beautiful baby boy, Rayan, and he has been a wonderful addition to our blended family.
When an unaccompanied asylum seeking child first arrives into your household, there are various initial appointments to attend and a routine to set up, but once up and running it is an extremely rewarding experience watching a youngster learning to adapt to a new country and benefit from all the opportunities available. What was particularly challenging for Hayat was the age assessment process and the attempts to send her to the countryside under the Nation Dispersal Scheme. And three years later, we are still involved in the court system seeking a final decision regarding Hayat’s application for refugee status.
Another, very poignant challenge for Hayat, is having to live with the separation from her birth family and her fears for their safety, wherever they may now be. However, she puts on a brave face and is determined to make the most of her life here in UK.
She now has a circle of friends from college, speaks English and very happily, has just received her residence permit, which means she can now start working and move on to the next positive chapter of her life.
Read more about fostering Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children.