Fostering a teenage refugee: Zara's story

Fostering a teenage refugee: Zara's story

"More than twenty years ago, I met my husband while we were both working at a holiday camp for children who wouldn’t otherwise have a holiday. Having been recommended for the programme by social services, the children displayed many challenging behaviours and carried heartbreaking stories. We then went on to be part of YWAM, working with teenagers in a significantly deprived area.

Since then we have had two birth children who are now both teenagers, and we live with our sheep, pigs, chickens, dogs and a cat in a 500-year-old thatched cottage. We have both always worked and volunteered with children and young people, and fostering has been on our hearts for a long time.

We heard Home for Good speak at New Wine in 2015 and we both knew that the time was right to apply. The process took ten months and we were approved to foster from ages five to eighteen. Our first placement was a 13-year-old girl who lived with us for ten weeks, and then she was able to go and live with her grandparents. We were then waiting to be matched with another child, but three weeks later had not heard anything.

It was a Friday in October, and I had a sudden urge to contact our social worker to say we would like to be added to the child refugee matching list – the very next day came the news that the Calais refugee camp was closing and we received a call from the Home Office. We were asked whether we felt able to care for an Eritrean teenager. She was 17 and an orphan. We said yes with trepidation, not knowing anything more about her.

She arrived the following day, with just the clothes she was wearing and very few possessions, utterly exhausted after her harrowing journey.

It has obviously been challenging in so many ways, but such an incredible blessing too. Communication was extremely hard to begin with, especially given there were no translators who spoke her language in our area. For meetings we have often had to use Language Line, which provides a translator over the phone, but other than that we’ve relied on Google Translate and online dictionaries. Initially, cooking for her was difficult as her diet is quite different to ours, but we have really enjoyed learning about her culture and trying new foods and spices, and this has been a great way to bond with her.

We have tried to help her to build relationships with others from her culture, and we hosted six other girls for an Eritrean Christmas on 7 January, the day they would usually celebrate. Although it took a while to obtain support for her, she is now able to access education locally and she is growing in confidence. She is so polite and hard-working and has received very positive feedback from her teachers. She is a Christian and we have bought her a Bible in her language, and she enjoys coming to church with us.

If you are considering fostering a child or young person from another culture, do whatever you can to prepare for them and help them feel settled. Find out as much as you can about their culture and language, make sure you have an online dictionary downloaded on your phone, talk to your library about sourcing books in their language, and try to learn about their favourite foods and food they need to avoid. Find out if anyone else is fostering refugees in your area who speak the same language, that has been a wonderful network for us.

If your young person is seeking asylum, be prepared for a lot of meetings, health appointments and a lengthy process. Be prepared to fight their corner and speed up the process where you can. Our foster child will need to travel to Cardiff for an important meeting, so we plan to use this opportunity to visit Eritrean restaurants and shops with her to hopefully help her enjoy her time there.

Our lovely young lady has been such a blessing to us. Her life has been so tough and we have shared tears as she has recounted her story to lawyers and social workers, but she remains positive and is seeking to make the most of her opportunities now. She was recently asked to go and speak to social services staff about her experiences in this country, and has been nominated by her college for an award at our county fostering awards ceremony. We have so much admiration for her. 

I was so nervous about fostering a refugee and had no idea what to expect, but she is so much a part of our family and we are so glad to be fostering her. Thankfully, it seems she is pleased to be with us too as she recently gave us ten out of ten for our official review! Our hope is that we can be as much of a blessing in her life as she has been to us."

If you've been inspired by Zara's amazing story and would like to support Home for Good as we continue to encourage people on their fostering or adoption journey, please click here to give to us.

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