Fostering unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the UK

There are many reasons why a child or young person may feel that they are no longer safe in their home country, and seek asylum in the UK. War, oppression and civil unrest can create situations in which many children may fear for their lives.

Children who arrive in the UK without their parents or carers usually go into the care of their nearest public authority and will often live with approved foster carers when there is no suitable family member or guardian to care for them.

Children seeking asylum may have experienced persecution or harassment for aspects of their identity such as: their political views, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnic group. Many will have experienced trauma as a result of this and some may also have been exploited during their journey to the UK.

Below are a collection of resources for foster carers looking after children and young people seeking asylum in the UK.

Current context

In the year ending March 2021 (the latest figures currently available) there were 2,044 applications for asylum in the UK from unaccompanied asylum seeking children. This is out of a total of 26,903 asylum applications (relating to 32,411 people) in the year. These figures are lower than most previous years (and about equivalent to 2017 figures) which is due to the measures taken in response to Covid-19, which impacted the movement of people across the world. 

The largest number of unaccompanied children, at the moment, come from Iran, followed by Albania, and Iraq. This data is from figures provided for the year ending March 2021, so lags slightly behind the current world context. For example, given the ongoing war in Ukraine, there may be a significant increase in the number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children from this country in the coming months. 

Data to 2020 tells us that the majority of unaccompanied asylum seeking children are male, and between the ages of 16-17.

Fostering unaccompanied asylum-seeking children

Alongside 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.

We would encourage foster carers who think they might have the skills, experience and willingness to look after a young person who has arrived in the UK unaccompanied to let their fostering service know.

Foster carers looking after unaccompanied children will require support to offer them the stability and the help they need; fostering services must ensure that their carers are trained, equipped and supported to deal with the particular challenges of meeting the needs of unaccompanied children.

Funded by The Welsh Government, The Fostering Network in Wales has published Could I foster? – your chance to make a real difference to children in Wales.

This free online guide on how to become a foster carer has an additional focus on encouraging more people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities to come forward. It also features a section on fostering unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to encourage carers, existing and new, to support these young people.

Could I Foster? (English)

Could I Foster? (Cymraeg)

Quick tips

Provide a secure base
Foster carers and social workers may be providing the first positive, stable adult relationship that these young people have experienced for some time. Providing calm and consistent care while understanding that it may take some time for them to come to trust you is vital.

Help them find positive social roles
After-school activities such as sports, art, music or religious groups, provide opportunities to make friends. They also offer the chance for the young person to achieve success, build their self-esteem and feel part of the community, which are vital to start the natural healing process.

Understand stories may change
There may be many reasons why young people may have been unable to tell the truth or their whole story when they first arrive, including inability to trust adults, fear of endangering family or friends and traumatic experiences. Try to maintain an attitude of open curiosity, rather than suspicion.

Support their education
Young people may not speak a great deal of English and have a disrupted history of education, but secondary school-aged children are entitled to 25 hours of education or training a week.

Young people are often offered 'English for Speakers of Other Languages' courses at colleges but this will not immerse them in an English-speaking community in the same way as school does.

You should be given support to find an appropriate school place with extra funding for language support.

Maintain language and cultural identity
Language is part of who we are and young people need to maintain their own language as well as learning English. If they are refused asylum or leave to remain after they turn 18, they need to be able to settle back in their country of origin.

Encourage the natural healing process
Shock, disassociation and trauma may lead to erratic behaviour.

Young people may carry survivor guilt and be scared for those who remain in their country of origin. You can help them find culturally appropriate ways of expressing loss and grief.

Formal therapy can help, but there may be hurdles, such as developing trust and language difficulties.

Further advice and information

Our member helplines provide confidential, independent and impartial advice for foster carers in the UK, including those who are fostering, or about to foster, an unaccompanied asylum seeker.
Our members also have exclusive access to our online community where you can log in to share your experience and get advice from other foster carers. The community is a safe and secure area to discuss topics including being a foster carer and looking after a child, as well as advice on finances.

Web resources

Looking after unaccompanied asylum-seeking children

How foster carers can help unaccompanied children seeking asylum

The Refugee Council have produced a separated children asylum process journey map, which is a colour-coded, visual resource to help 'newly arrived separated children and care leavers who have made a claim for asylum in the UK to understand the asylum process and their rights and responsibilities as looked after children and care leavers in England'.


The Refugee council

Unaccompanied asylum seeking children

Lucy Stevens - a foster carer and a fostering service recruitment and placements manager, who has looked after a child from Afghanistan

  1. A child arrives from overseas
  2. The big screen
  3. Hitting the wall
  4. Mountains to molehills
  5. The interview
  6. Love and kindness is never wasted: Fostering an unaccompanied asylum seeking child
  7. Silk (poem)
  8. What about the kids?
  9. Shades of grey
  10. Moon landing (part 1)
  11. Moon landing (part 2)
  12. A leap of faith
  13. Obscured from view