How we make a difference in these young refugee's lives
Jasmin said: “It was four years ago. I got a call saying there was an eleven year old, with no English, and he was just doing an interview at the police station. He was from Afghanistan, and they’d found him in a telephone box. Could I look after him? So I said yes.”
Jasmin is a Sheffield Council foster carer, and has lost count of the foster children from all backgrounds who’ve lived with her family over the last 17 years.
“We do it together. I brought my own children up to know right from wrong, and they understand that some children are less fortunate. I’m the foster carer, but they’ve always supported me.” Young refugees arrive in Sheffield for many reasons.Some have been trafficked and forced to work in factories or in the drugs trade en route, and some have been sexually exploited.They may have been transported by people smugglers, paid by parents desperate to get their kids out of a war zone. And like ’M’, the boy found in a phone box, they may have been separated from a parent on their journey.“The children who come to our attention are teenagers, often 14-16 year olds when they turn up,” said Jess Adams from Sheffield Council, “but they could have taken weeks, months or even years to get here.” The problem is, there aren’t enough people like Jasmin offering a temporary home to the often bewildered children arriving from countries far away, often dropped off from a lorry without any clear idea of where they are or where they’ve been. If there were more approved foster carers, the UK’s first city of sanctuary might also consider homes for children from refugee camps in Europe or abroad.“Some children might have lived through trauma like kidnapping, sexual abuse or torture during their journey, and keep moving until they find safety,” said Jess. “For young refugees, a home represents a place to recover from past trauma and begin life in the UK. But at present, there are not enough foster places for them.
“So I want to hear from anyone who’s over the age of 21 and has a spare room, and who’s willing and motivated to support a young refugee.” There’ll be an open evening to find out more at Highfield Adventure Playground on 12th November from 6-8pm.Sheffield Council has a statutory duty to look after young refugees who arrive in the city, said Jess, who works for the Welcoming Young Refugees project funded by central government to recruit and support foster carers for unaccompanied asylum seeking children. Some 10 per cent of all asylum applications are from children or young people who are separated from their families or carers, and find themselves alone and seeking protection here in the United Kingdom.
Despite the trauma they’ve been through on their way to Sheffield, foster carers are often surprised that young refugees may well appear calm and keen to fit in, get on and do well, said Jess.“When they meet their foster carer, often there’s just the relief of having somewhere to have a wash, to sleep in a bed and not fear being beaten up,” she said.“Young people show remarkable resilience. but they need good support and access to education and opportunities here.
“Carers are really important in supporting a young refugee as they move into adulthood, settle and adapt to a new culture.” The carer and child receive help to navigate the asylum process, but for some children there is still a risk they’ll be sent back when they reach the age of 18. “The asylum process is complicated, and can be a traumatic experience for carer and child,” said Jess.
“But carers have said to me, if that was my child, I’d want someone with them at that time, rather than just being left to their own devices.”‘M' is still with Jasmin, after four years, and is working hard at college hoping to become a mechanic. Jasmin’s own children see him as their brother. “You need patience and understanding,” said Jasmin. “But you really can make a difference in these young people’s lives.”See www.migrationyorkshire.org.uk and www.sheffield.gov.uk/fostering for more information.