Looking after unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the UK

The Home Office defines an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child as someone who is under the age of 18, is claiming asylum in their own right and who has no adult relative or guardian in the UK to provide care (Home Office, 2002).

At 31 March 2018 there were 4,480 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, down 4% on the number at 31 March 2017. In 2018, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children continue to represent around 6% of all children looked after in England.

There are many different reasons why a child or young person may feel that they are no longer safe in their home country and find themselves in the UK seeking asylum.

They may have little or no protection from harassment or persecution because of their religion, race, political beliefs, social group, or nationality.

Combined with the task of caring for these children on a day-to-day basis, foster carers will also need to support them through the process of applying for permission to stay in the UK, and possibly to prepare for the return. Many unaccompanied children seeking asylum will also have particular emotional, practical, language and cultural needs that their foster carers will have to consider.

Since becoming foster carers Denise and Tony Gilbert have taken care of 4 unaccompanied children, aged between 13-15 years old who have come to the UK from various countries including Afghanistan, Egypt and Syria.

All four children went to stay with and be cared for by Denise and Tony with a few days of arriving in the UK. The children arrived speaking little or no English.

Denise and Tony wanted to make sure the children had what they needed to help them settle. They made sure the children had a Halal diet and read all the food packaging to ensure they would not be fed something they shouldn’t be fed. A copy of the Koran and prayer was provided to daily prayers and then they began the task of teaching them English.

The children had been given a change of clothing on arrival but felt very overwhelmed when they were taking on shopping trip to buy new clothes, something they had not experienced.

The children all quickly became part of their family and enjoyed playing with Denise’s and Tony’s young grandson; language didn’t appear to be a barrier for them.

As foster carers Diana and Tony were aware that they would be helping the children with the legal process of applying to stay in the UK. They helped the children through the interviews and various meeting that took place. And also helped them to integrate them in to a local school.

Denise and Tony recall their time with the children:

“One of the boys lived with us for over a year, he generally got on well with one of the other boys we were looking after. He finally went on to live with an uncle and occasionally contacts us and asks how everyone is.

Another young man who stayed with us for nearly 2 years became very much part of our family, he classes us as his ‘English mum and dad’. He now lives with his dad and keeps in regular contact. He came to our son’s wedding last year and was an usher.

We supported him through the right to remain process – seeing the solicitor, home office and helping him through the court process. When he began school, we helped him understand the work.

He still rings us for support and help now. He is in college and recently passed his driving test. We all miss him especially our 5-year-old grandson who has a special bond with his ‘brother’ S.

The other 2 children were with us a few months, one left to live with his cousins, the other was sent to a private school but unfortunately, we’ve lost contact however, it would be nice to know how they are.

The children were always respectful and keen to learn and although there were language barriers, they got on well with other boys in placement.

When 3 of the unaccompanied minors were here at the same time, they used to have cooking competitions, they’d each cooked a meal on different nights and asked us which we enjoyed the most. All the meals were tasty.

Overall it was a great experience learning about their culture and traditions and getting to know them.”

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