Foster care for asylum seeking children in the UK

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Foster care for asylum seeking children in the UK

Foster a teenage UASC

Foster a teenage asylum seeker

Foster carers face a challenge when contemplating opening their home for an asylum-seeking child. Not the least will be the obvious mismatch of cultures. In fact, the ‘looked after children’ population is comprised of many disparate groups. The youngsters – often it is hard to establish their ages –  that arrive here on our shores who are unaccompanied by a responsible adult comprise a small but rising proportion of young people needing foster homes.

Foster care for an asylum-seeking children (UASC).

Fostering such children can present challenges that are distinct and can be quite formidable. Perhaps the greatest of these will be the psychological state of the children and young people who actually manage the hazardous journey to get here. A proportion may be seeking asylum from political or religious persecution. For others, it will be their sexual identity that will have put them at risk. And this can be considerable: many cultures around the world are deeply homophobic.

It is now fifty years ago that Britains decriminalisation of homosexuality began. In eight countries, having such relationships can still result in the death penalty being imposed. It should also be remembered that around seventy countries and territories around the globe still criminalise same-sex relationships. This was the situation as recently s 2017. It can be understood from this why a significant number of gay individuals of all ages are forced to flee from their country of origin.

Foster care might only be at the end of a perilous journey.

What also has to be added to the psychological pressures that will be rooted in an individual’s developing sense of self  – which may have led to rejection and danger – is the journey itself. This can be deeply traumatising – likely to have been physically and emotionally tough and always with an accompanying sense of vulnerability and danger. Ever present will be the constant reminder and worry about the family and friends who are left behind. It is frequently the case that a child will have been selected by their family because it is thought they have the best chance of fitting into a new country. This is an enormous responsibility for a person who might be very young to shoulder. There may be additional guilt because a family may well have given large sums of money to ‘people traffickers’. Quite apart from the few possessions a child may be able to take on the journey, they are likely to be weighed down with a mixture of fear, worry, guilt and responsibility.

It is also hard to imagine how nightmarish is the world that asylum seekers are desperate to leave. It does, of course, explain the desperate measures and risks taken to get to a country of safety. There are many astonishing stories of survival. The UK’s Border agency has pulled children from the channel. Others try and get into the UK hidden in lorries – which itself can be extremely dangerous if they are refrigerated. There are stories of other youngsters injuring themselves jumping from the backs of lorries.

The research there is points to the fact that they are mostly young males fleeing countries that are affected by War. Many come from Syria. Still more arrive having escaped various forms of political, ethnic or religious strife. This means that asylum seekers are coming from a range of countries that are include Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Eritrea. 

Another cause contributing to the exodus from many countries is sexual intimidation. In seventy-four countries, same-sex relationships are a criminal offence. In another thirteen countries, homosexual acts are still punishable by death. This is the case in Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Mauritania, Pakistan, UAE, areas of Nigeria, Parts of Iraq and some parts of Somalia. There is a climate of oppression and danger which causes people to escape these countries.

Focus attention on the difficulties asylum seekers experience.

The individuals that attempt these hazardous journeys are clearly desperate. Having made it to these shores, life does not get easier. Many arrive thinking there will be a welcome – but the reception they get is usually confusing and ambiguous. The first and most obvious difficulty is overcoming the language barrier: then there are all the complexities of trying to navigate the asylum system. The psychological stresses of doing this can be almost comparable to those they have faced during the long journey to the UK. Asylum seekers will be aware that most claims are turned down. And this is after detailed questioning – itself a stressful and unsettling experience. This means that throughout the process, there is no guarantee a claim for asylum will be successful.

Foster carers should know that the general situation is changing all the time. Figures the government has made available show there were 2,168 asylum applications from unaccompanied asylum-seeking children at the end of 2015. This represented a rise of forty-six per cent on applications made the previous year which stood at one thousand four hundred and eighty-eight. This does, in fact, mean they still remain significantly below what was the peak figure in the year 2008. When lookout in the round, the proportion of decision which resulted in asylum being granted to an applicant fell from seventy-two per cent – year ending 2014 to sixty-seven per cent year ending 2015.

The situation has caused much strain here in the UK. There is a shortage of foster carers and the burden of new arrivals has not been shared equally: on local authority experienced an increase of 650% more asylum-seeking children in a single year as compared to the previous year. Cambridgeshire’s local authority experienced a rise of 500% in relation to asylum-seeking children in a single year. Such rises cause problems. Cambridgeshire, for example, had no dedicated team to handle this increase.

The foster care experience.

When an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child first arrives in placement, foster carers will be likely to witness behaviour normally associated with confusion, stress trauma and separation. it is very common for a child to be nervous. There will inevitably be problems of communication. If foster carers can be found who share the same cultural heritage and language, the situation is obviously much easier. The foster placement stands a far higher chance of being successful. But such matches are difficult to make. The diet of an asylum seeker will be very different. Religious observance can also be a complicated issue to work around. These are significant challenges for foster cares to cope with. It is also true to say that trying to meet the needs of an asylum seeker can be an effective way of building a bond between carer and child. Many foster carers have done a quite amazing job in meeting the challenges of such placements. Many foster carers report that; notwithstanding the difficulties, the experience can be very rewarding as they are providing support to children whose lives have often been deeply traumatic.

The issue of age.

It is certainly true to say that one of the most controversial areas of taking in asylum-seeking children involves their stated ages. It has been found that many older children will claim to be much younger as they think it will improve the chances of their claim for asylum being successful. There are cases reported where adults have claimed to be children to increase the chances of their claim being accepted.

Figures available showed that at the year ending June 2015 there were in total 404 applicants involved in a dispute over their age: 488 were on record as having had an age assessment. Of those who completed an age assessment at year end June 2015, 58% were discovered to have a date of birth that indicated they were aged over 18.  This was despite their claiming to be a child at the time the dispute around their age arose.

It has been claimed that sixty-five per cent of assessed child refugees entering the United Kingdom were actually adults. this is correct, but the fact is that most child asylum seekers are not challenged about their age. according to a Times report – April 2018 – “Nearly two-thirds of supposed child refugees who were challenged about their real age after coming to Britain were found to be adults.”

The figure of sixty-five per cent has appeared in the media many times. It was contained within a report produced by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and immigration – it stated –  “Home Office data indicated that between 1 July 2016 and 30 June 2017 it had received 2,952 applications for asylum from unaccompanied children. In the same period, it had raised 705 age disputes, roughly 1 in 4.” It continued – “Of the 705, 618 had been resolved. In 216 (35%) of these 618 cases, the Local Authority assessed the claimant to be under 18, and in 402 (65%) cases, they were assessed to be over 18 (an adult).”

Further information is available at –

Determining the correct age of an applicant is a fundamental part of the ‘In Need’ assessment process. When this is unclear, the process of application can be slowed considerably.

The most recent figures: at the end of last year, there were slightly over 40,000 asylum seekers across the UK. The UK has also committed to taking 20,000 Syrian refugees from the camps there by 2020. There is a difference between an asylum seeker and a refugee. The former is a person who is seeking international protection, but whose claim for refugee status will be in the process of being assessed. A refugee is a person whose status has been recognised under the 1951 Convention which relates to the status of refugees.

The shortage of foster carers.

There is a real shortage of foster carers for teenagers generally in the UK. Given that asylum seekers are more likely to be teenagers, the problem of finding foster carers for them is particularly acute. The United Kingdom currently faces a lack of carers for unaccompanied asylum-seeking teenage boys in particular. As of March 2016, it was found that the number of ‘looked-after unaccompanied asylum-seeking children’ increased by 54% to 4,210 children. This represented 6% of the population of ‘looked-after children’ population.

What all teenagers share in common when they enter the care system.

Whatever the reason for a particular foster placement, a crucial factor for all teenagers – including asylum-seeking teenagers – will be uncertainty about what the future holds. this will be especially strongly felt by asylum-seeking teenagers as they are in an alien country with little or no understanding of the culture. It is useful for foster carers to consider the following advice when fostering teenagers: Always try and identify with a teenager by putting yourself in their shoes. Adjustment to a new situation takes time – for all concerned. Many teenagers will have experienced multiple moves as well as many different people interfering – as they would see it – with their lives. A foster carer should think about ‘age and stage’: different ages will need a different approach. Always try and be patient: all families are different – they have different rules and it can be hard for teenagers to adjust. Remember that whatever the issue might be that is causing difficulty is likely to assume less importance with the passage of time. It is important that foster carers do not expect teenagers to be grateful for the home and the welcome given. They are likely to be finding the whole experience daunting. For asylum-seeking teenagers, try to prepare food that is familiar to build trust and demonstrate interest. this can go a long way in forming a relationship. It is a good idea to always relate in a calm, non-intrusive and relaxed manner.

Could you foster a teenager with the support of Team Rainbow?

If you make the decision to join us, you could soon be helping a vulnerable teenager who can no longer live with their own family. The minimum requirements needed to foster are quite simple: a spare bedroom; you will need to be over 21 years of age; most importantly possess a passion, resilience and a commitment to improving the life of a teenage person. To be a Rainbow foster carer it is vital that you are prepared to support them in realising their educational goals.

What kind of people foster with Rainbow?

At Rainbow Fostering Agency, we go out of our way to welcome all new foster care applicants, This is regardless of their ethnic background or religion or indeed age. Neither is an individual’s sexual orientation or relationship status a bar to becoming a foster carer. We welcome single people, couples, divorcees and married couples.

Would you like to be trained to foster a teenager – or to foster an asylum-seeking child?

If the answer is yes, please don’t hesitate to call our specialist foster care recruitment team on 020 8427 3355.  We also have a National Foster Care Application Line 0330 311 2845 that you can make use of.

Remember, too, we work hard to update our website with new information about fostering all the time: visit  We have recently added information to our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section on our website. This will hopefully provide answers to many of the more common questions we receive about fostering:

Transfer to Rainbow

If you are a foster carer who is working with another agency but, are interested in developing your foster caring experience, Rainbow might be for you. We are always looking to recruit people who already have experience of fostering.

At the current time, we are also looking to train people to become therapeutic foster carers. This is because more and more foster children need specialist care to help them recover from traumatic experiences. Please call us if you wish to discuss this opportunity further with a member of our recruitment team.

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