'The biggest challenge is what you don’t know’

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Veronica has been a foster carer for almost 12 years. Together with her husband, she currently cares for two young women, one of which is an asylum seeking teenager who arrived in the UK all by herself when she was 16. In this blog Veronica tells us what this is like and why the two women are such a good match.

All names in this blog have been changed for anonymity. 

‘Fostering has taught me that children just want to be loved. They need to feel a sense of belonging, be cared for, have a home, somewhere to sleep at night, to be fed and clothed. As an African myself, Sunflower reminds me very much of myself as a teenager coming to England from Ghana.’

The fact she can relate so well to young people like Sunflower is one of the reasons why Veronica started her fostering career in the first place. ‘A friend who was a social worker encouraged my husband and I to foster. There was a great need for Black/Afro-Caribbean carers and an increasing number of children in the system that they were having difficulty placing in terms of trying to match their needs and respecting cultural diversity. We thought we could help, so we did.’

Despite various similarities between the two women’s experiences, there is one crucial difference as Veronica is quick to point out. ‘I came here with my family. Sunflower arrived in the UK as an unaccompanied minor and was completely alone. She was brought to us straight from the Home Office. She spoke no English and looked nervous.’

Dealing with the unknown

‘Young people from all backgrounds have been through significant hardship before entering the care system. The biggest challenge when caring for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, however, is what you don’t know. Are they trafficked? Have they been through physical or emotional abuse? What trauma have they suffered and what are they still going through?’ Veronica said she has found it particularly difficult to imagine what Sunflower has been faced with throughout her life.

‘As foster carers we want to fully meet the young people’s emotional needs and we want to fill the gap for their temporary, or sometimes permanent, loss or displacement. This can be a real challenge.’

What it takes to foster

Nobody would say that what Veronica and her family are doing is easy. With the right support and experience however, a positive experience in foster care can make all the difference to children who are so far away from their own families.

‘I particularly enjoy seeing them transform into confident young people and helping them to fulfil their potential. We do so by nurturing them, providing a nice homely environment, love, stability and meeting their basic needs.’

Besides being able to offer a safe and stable home to children and young people, organisational skills, confidentiality, respect for others and their religious beliefs are all qualities that Veronica considers fundamental in fostering. She feels strongly that ‘consistency, loyalty, being truthful and not compromising on integrity’ are also hugely important to be able to support children in care.

Reasons to become a foster carer

After almost 12 years in the role Veronica would encourage anyone considering fostering to take the brave step forwards.

‘It’s an extremely worthwhile and rewarding job. It helps you become a better person. Many children who are looked after have lost their families or friends or can’t be with them at the moment. This has made me much humbler and very appreciative of what I have. Fostering also brings an awareness that so many children are suffering, being maltreated and need love, care, direction and guidance.'

Opening her house up to Sunflower has been a very positive experience says Veronica who has enjoyed watching the teenager grow and change. ‘She’s a very respectful and cheerful young woman and she appreciates the opportunities the UK offers’.

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This blog was co-written for The Fostering Network by Veronica and Yasmin Millican, Young Refugees Engagement Officer at the British Red Cross. The British Red Cross’ RnB project supports young refugees and asylum seekers aged 15-21 to understand their rights, develop life skills, improve their English and have fun.

You can read Sunflower's blog here.