Intro to Fostering
- When a child’s family is unable to look after a child, the Local Authority (LA) may decide the best option is for the child to be in foster care
- In the UK it’s estimated over 70k children are in care, of which 50k are in foster care.
- Most children return to their families within a year, some will stay in foster care for longer
- Fostering plays a crucial role in a child’s life, whether over the short term or the long term
- There are many different types of fostering, the term also applies to people who foster their own families, for example nieces, nephews,cousins etc.
Children from all ages and backgrounds in the UK require foster caring. These can be;
- Brothers and sisters who need to stay together
- Black & Ethnic-minority children
- Older children
- Children with special needs and disabilities
Who can foster?
Anyone who can provide a safe and secure home can be a foster carer. There is no age limit, you do not have to be married or own a large property. Foster carers of all ethnicities, religions and languages are needed, as well as foster carers who can look after children with complex needs.
- Age – anyone over 18 can foster,it’s expected that you act maturely and have the health and stamina to look after a child & to be able to work with agencies and professionals
- Health – it’s important that children are able to live in a disruption-free environment therefore fostering is not advised for people with serious or long-term illness
- Health – it’s important that children are able to live in a disruption-free environment therefore you need to consider your health prior to fostering.
- Home & Garden – you don’t need to own your home. Agencies will check that homes & gardens are safe for kids.If you have pets (particularly dogs) the fostering agencies will need to assess them to ensure they are child-safe.
- Criminal Record – if you have a criminal record or have been cautioned for specific offences against children or sexual offences against adults you may not be able to foster however this depends on recency, nature of offence etc
- Financial Support – you do not need to be wealthy to foster. As a foster carer you will receive a fostering allowance to cover the cost of caring for the child. You may also receive a fee depending on the payment scheme offered by the agency. For many foster carers, fostering is their main/only income stream so it is a career.
- Ethnicity, Culture, Religion & Language – studies show that children grow up best in foster families that share (or have a deep awareness of) as many aspects of the child’s culture, religion or ethnic origin. This helps the child build a positive sense of their identity and feel connected to their heritage.
I fear I’m not qualified…
Fostering can be hugely rewarding, you will be making a massive positive impact in the foster-child’s life however it’s also very demanding and requires time and space in your life. It’s a big commitment and it requires you to work in partnership with organisations and people who are involved in the child’s care, including social workers, counsellors, medical professionals & the child’s family.
Do not worry if you don’t think you have all the skills required to be a foster carer, fostering agencies are usually willing to train people who have passion, commitment, enthusiasm, like children and want to make a positive difference to the child’s life.
Fostering Albanian-Speaking Children? – The basics
- Do these children speak English?
Some may well do, very often they do not, the child’s language is Albanian.
- Does the Albanian language share any links with any other language?
No, it’s one of very few European languages which has it’s own roots. It is spoken by the nations of Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia primarily by ethnic-Albanian people.
- What should I know about Albania & Kosovo?
Albania is a country in South-Eastern Europe, it was a closed communist country from 1945 until 1992. It’s currently a democracy but it suffers from the same challenges as all in-transition democracies.
Kosovo used to be part of Yugoslavia until 1999 when the Albanian people of Kosovo, oppressed by the Serb regime rose up and fought to liberate their country, with NATOs help. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, which is recognised by the majority of the West, including the UK & US, however disputed by Serbia, Russia & others.
- Why do these children come to the UK?
These children may be trafficked,are claiming asylum to escape violence, dysfunctional families, poverty or come here in search for a better way of life.
- Are Albanians religious?
The majority of Albanians are muslim, while a portion are Catholics. Generally speaking Albanians tend to have a very relaxed attitude towards religion but many do practice their faith, be it Muslims or Catholics.
- Is there an existing Albanian community in the UK?
Yes, a significantly large one, particularly in London where Albanians have been settling in large numbers since the late 90’s.
- What is important to Albanian young people?
Family is very important, their sense of pride and heritage, their culture & their oath. They also value education and there is a huge emphasis on loyalty.
- Do these children have siblings and/or relaties in the UK?
Very often they do have siblings, and other relatives in the UK. Often they are not able to live with them due to financial difficulties,immigration problems and lack of safe, stable home environments.
Albanian-Speaking Child in foster care? – the basics
- Will my foster carer be of similar religion, race, ethnicity etc?
Where possible yes, but definitely not always
- Do foster carers normally have kids of their own and/or other foster kids?
Yes very often foster carers have their own families too, and possibly other foster kids.
- Will I be able to go and meet my friends/relatives?
Yes, you can but you need to discuss it with the foster carers/inform them before you leave.
- Can I bring friends or relatives to the house?
This very much depends on the arrangement with the foster carer, it’s their home so you always need to ask for permission first.
- Is the foster carer paid to look after me?
They are provided with money to meet your needs from the local authorities, but they are certainly not making a profit from you, it’s more that they want to provide a safe, happy and healthy home for you to grow up in.
- Can i practice my religion even if the foster carer is not religious/of a different religion?
Yes, the foster carer will provide you with space and facilities you need, but you need to discuss this in advance with them first and respect their space & privacy too.
- Can I speak to my foster carer if I’m stressed, anxious, scared or simply need help/advice?
Of course you can, think of your foster carer as a parent, they are always there for you and will provide the best possible guidance they can.
- What if I have disagreements with other foster kids/family members?
You should speak to your foster carer immediately.
- What if I have a disagreement with my foster carer?
You should try to resolve it with the foster carer at the first opportunity, if you can’t do so you should then contact your social worker for support.
- I’m struggling to communicate with my foster carer due to language & social barriers?
You should get in touch with your social worker and ask for an interpreter.
A Foster Carer’s Journey
Having been a Foster Carer for nearly 30 years I thought that I was pretty well equipped to cope with any boy that Social Services placed with me. With so much experience surprises had become a rarity but then in the summer of 2015 I was asked to take my first Asylum seeking Child. 16 year old boys were pretty much standard placements for me but this one came from Albania.
I like to think that I am a fairly well educated person but back then if someone had asked me 5 facts about Albania I would be struggling to think of 2. It was a European country (but was not quite sure where in Europe exactly) and Albanians were unfortunately usually portrayed as the ‘bad guys’ in Hollywood movies. Culturally, ethnically, historically and geographically it pretty much drew a blank in my then 62 years of personal knowledge. I doubt that the majority of English people today know any more than I did then. In those early weeks of looking after young Ali my go-to resource was Google. The vast majority of Social Workers in my local Social Services in Bristol certainly had little if any knowledge that was of any use to me at the time.
I had to learn as I went along which is far from ideal and is the reason why almost 6 years on that I want to improve the resources available to young Albanians that arrive unaccompanied in the UK. It is only in the last 2 years that I have become aware of Shpresa and all the wonderful work that they do and the increasingly important impact that they are having on young Albanians lives.
Generally when they arrive as Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children the young Albanians are taken into the care system and placed in Children’s Homes or with Foster Carers like myself. Getting used to their new world and coping with an uncertain future is incredibly difficult and becomes even more challenging as they fight for the right to remain in the UK. Winning the right to stay is harder for young Albanians than almost any other nationality and applications with the Home Office can take years as I have discovered.
It was a very different challenge for me back then with all too few resources available to help a young man adjusting to a new life far away from everything he had ever known. Having to communicate entirely in a foreign language was just one of the challenges he faced. New people, new foods, a new culture and unsure who to trust. It was no surprise that he was initially reluctant to trust anyone at all.
Almost 6 years on I have learned so much which hopefully can help other Foster Carers. Ali now 21 is a Head Chef and one of the UK’s finest young chefs. I hope that through Shpresa we can help more young Albanians in Care by supporting their Carers and helping them better understand the needs of Albanian children. Hopefully we can also encourage other people to become Carers because there is such a shortage of Foster Carers especially from the Albanian community here.
Speaking for myself I can say that looking after Albanian boys over recent years has been one of the most rewarding and satisfying experiences of my fostering career and I would encourage anyone who may be interested in helping young Albanians to consider becoming Foster Carers. There are plenty of young people who could benefit from your help and support.
JOHN STOKES (Foster Carer)
SUPPORTING CARERS FOR YOUNG ALBANIANS
Most of us as adults struggle to deal with the inflexibility of Government departments. Often it’s difficult to understand the wording, descriptions, instructions and legal explanations even when it’s written in our own language. Sometimes it can seem like it has been written in a foreign language. Imagine then how much more difficult it would be if you were a child with a very basic understanding of English.
Unless you’ve had reason to deal with the Home Office it’s difficult to explain or for you to understand the mental anguish and frustration that each Asylum Seeking Child has to cope with. The best analogy I can give from my experience is that it’s like being the new kid in class trying to deal with the school bully. The more you try to explain the more it seems the bully doesn’t listen and the more threatening he becomes. Yes and if that’s how I have felt as a Foster Carer dealing with the Home Office then try to imagine how intimidating and frightening it is for every child that has to deal with them.
As a Carer it is so difficult to help the child when you have so little knowledge of the situation,or of Immigration Law and even of the child’s rights as an Asylum Seeker. The majority of Foster Carers have little knowledge or experience of Immigration procedures. Most asylum seeking children will not have the benefit of having Carers or Social Workers that understand the complexities or difficulties of dealing with Immigration issues. Those with relevant knowledge and experience are few indeed.
Fortunately Shpresa are making great efforts to fill the gaps in knowledge and support for those working with Albanian children in this dire situation. There is so much yet to do and so much more support needed for those of us helping the children. Listed here are a few of the main areas where more support is needed for Children and their Carers.
- IMMIGRATION LAW ADVICE
Finding a Solicitor to put together a claim for Asylum and/or Leave to Remain is fairly straightforward. However finding a Solicitor that can give an Albanian Child a reasonable chance of success with the claim and subsequent court Appeals is another matter entirely.
- LEGAL AID
Legal Aid in the Appeals process is often refused thereby further reducing the chance of success for the child.
- FOSTER CARER SUPPORT
The typical Foster Carer or Social Worker will rarely have the Knowledge of what needs to be included in a strong Immigration Appeal let alone the ability to source that information. Unfortunately many Solicitors lack the relevant experience or knowledge of the complexity of Albanian claims (especially when limited by Legal Aid awards or even the total lack of Legal Aid)
To have any reasonable chance of success the opinion of experts will be needed.
- Experts in Immigration Law.
- Experts (Psychologists, Mental Health professionals) who understand the effects of PTSD something which many young Asylum seekers experience. PTSD from traumatic experiences in their home life and/or on their journeys to the UK.
- Country Experts who understand the situations in Albania that have led to the Child leaving whether by choice or by being Trafficked.
Sourcing and affording these experts and others is very difficult. Shpresa is currently developing a network of experts and support information for Carers and Social Workers to access for young Albanians and their Immigration claims.
- SOCIAL ISOLATION
Social isolation for young Albanians in the care system can be another problem. In the big cities there can be significant Albanian communities but in other parts of the country they can feel very alone and isolated surrounded by people that have little if any knowledge of their culture,history and traditions.
Many English people see young Albanians adapt to life here and often thrive in their new life but can forget how important their culture and heritage is to them. Becoming more English helps adapt (my eldest even has a strong Bristol accent) but identity is important to every child and young Albanians are a very proud people. In London Shpresa organises social events and youth groups which enable young Albanians to celebrate their heritage and culture. Hopefully the work that Shpresa already does can inspire other Albanian UK communities to follow.
As a Foster Carer I have been contacted from Carers across the UK caring for young Albanians facing the problems that I have mentioned. I hope that the Shpresa website can become a gateway for them to better understand the needs of those that they care for and the rich culture that they have come from. I hope that we can help give Carers an opportunity to share their knowledge, their experiences and wonderful stories of their young Albanians as well as a place of support for both them and their children.