Veronica Jones - 18th November 2022
The film that Eastern Fostering Services are featuring this week “Fostering unaccompanied young people” was aired on Look East earlier this year. It tells the story of a young man who was just 14 when he arrived in the UK and was moved to one of our foster carers. We asked our carer to tell us what it was like to foster him and how he is doing today.
It was quite late in the evening when our foster son arrived on our doorstep. He was our first foster child and I remember feeling apprehensive. My two young children were in bed, settled. Tomorrow they would wake to a family of 5. It was a night of great unknowns. We only knew his name and nationality an hour before he arrived.
I knew that he was Muslim and ate a halal diet. I had a vegetarian dish on the hob and the house smelled spicy and warm – I hoped welcoming.
When the knock on the door came, I remember my heart giving a leap, this is it. Things will never be the same again. I got that right at least!
I opened the door to two social workers flanking a terrified looking child. I remember he looked me straight in the eyes. Two dark pools of fear. My reaction was physical, What has happened to this boy? It would only really be during the interview for this film that I would fully know the extent of what lay behind that fear.
Our foster son spoke no English and had no belongings except for the clothes he stood up in. The following days were taken up with the practicalities. We went clothes shopping. The first smiles emerged in the changing rooms as he proudly showed me his new outfits and awaited my thumbs up. I went to our local bookshop and ordered him a Qu’uran. The lady who owns the shop asked me why I needed it and when I told her, she gave me the book as a gift. It was the first realisation that fostering need not be a lonely path, that there will be people cheering you on along the way. Cheering him along.
We enrolled him into English classes and secured him a place at school. From the very beginning, the school was supportive and became a place of great enjoyment for him.
Caring for him was complex though. Here was a boy who held so much trauma but who didn’t have the means or the words to express it. We managed to get therapy for him through the Refugee Council and he engaged really well. Yet he was still suffering headaches, insomnia and other awful symptoms of PTSD.
I could only really guess at the story behind his trauma. I knew what life was like in his home country and what horrors young people faced on their way to the UK. Once we had started the asylum process, I got to hear snatches of his story but these were through interpreters who were not always very adept and yet who held a bizarre power. Whatever they interpreted would be what was put on the statements and evidence which went to the Home Office. Any inconsistencies count against the child, not the interpreter. These inconsistencies can have a very real and negative impact on the chances a child has of being granted refugee status. One refusal and one court appeal later and our foster son was granted refugee status.
He left school with some good GCSE results but his level of English was still holding him back and restricting his college choices. By the time he reached 17, he felt he was ready to make a go of things on his own. We fought for him to be given accommodation locally so that we could continue to support him should he need us. He went to college, studied English and thus began a period of great development and learning.
At several points whilst he was living with us, I wondered if he would ever be happy. I feared that he had just seen and lost too much to ever be in a place of contentment. I’m glad to say that I was wrong. He still grapples with his experiences, with his loss, but he is happy. His English is excellent, he is working, providing for himself and is an honourable and hard working young man.
So when we were approached by a journalist wanting to tell the story of children who have come to the UK seeking asylum, I asked him if he’d like to take part. I fully expected him to say no. Of course, he didn’t want to be named or to appear in the film as he still has family abroad who might be in danger. But he did agree to tell his story and asked me to be there.
I thought, after the endless hours sitting in Home Office interviews that I knew his story inside out. It only dawned on me as this interview began, that I had never heard him tell his full story in English. I was immediately taken back to those fearful eyes I had looked into when he arrived. I hadn’t known how much death he had seen. I hadn’t known how many times he had been beaten on his journey. I hadn’t known exactly what he had endured on the lorry that had brought him into our lives.
As we spoke together afterwards, we reflected on what we had come through together, what we had shared but also what we hadn’t known. Us about him and him about us. I suppose we all just accepted one another and got on with the challenges we faced.
I cannot tell you the joy it gives me now to chat easily and comfortably with him, to hear of his successes to hear him tell me he is happy. And to believe it. As I told him the other day, we are all so proud of him and there is no doubt in my mind that his parents would be too.
At Eastern Fostering Services, we are seeing an increase in requests for carers who could look after young people such as “Ahmed”. If you feel moved by his story and feel you could offer a young person the chance of a new life, please do contact us at email@example.com or call us on 01206 299775. You can also find us on Facebook and message us there too.