York families respond to God's heart for young refugees

The extraordinary story of families in York responding to God's call to open their hearts and homes to young refugees.

In December 2015, more than a thousand people attended the annual carol service at York Minster, hosted by The Belfrey, a large Anglican church in York. Krish was invited to speak about Home for Good, and in particular, God's heart for refugees, in light of the Syrian crisis that had unfolded just a few months earlier.

As the familiar Christmas story was reframed in the context of national unrest and persecution, Sandra found herself deeply affected: "Krish showed a video of children fleeing from Syria and other places. We were frustrated with the UK government for not taking in more Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children (UASCs) but then realised that we could offer a home to one and be part of the solution."

Clare was another of those present at the carol service who, together with her husband, started to wonder about their role. "We both thought about our own boys and how we would want them to be welcomed into a home and a family if they were in the same situation. The idea just wouldn't go away so we started making enquiries and talked with our boys until we all decided we could offer a home to a teenage boy." Clare’s family welcomed their new addition the following December.

It was no surprise that Krish's words met fertile soil. Two years earlier, another York-based family had sensed God's call to welcome more children into their home and by the time of the carol service, they were liaising with the Local Authority to ask what could be done. "We pointed out that we were already approved foster carers and had rooms in our home," explains Jen. "Together with staff from Home for Good, we were able to meet with senior representatives of the Council - and a plan to care for UASCs in York gradually emerged."

Jen helped on the Home for Good stall after the carol service, where she realised that many had been impacted by the message. “I remember it being very busy with lots of people showing interest.”

Lynn and her family had also been touched by the Syrian crisis and were encouraged by Home for Good to consider what they could offer. “The weekend when little Alan Kurdi was washed up on the shore, and the petition led by Home for Good were crucial," Lynn remembers. "Our conviction grew and we had a sense when listening to Krish at Spring Harvest that we’d be fostering by the time our youngest was 4. Our two teenagers arrived a few days after her fourth birthday and one week after we’d moved into a bigger house!"

All four families have welcomed young refugees - both boys and girls - into their homes, but not without challenge.

The children have come from Syria, but also Ethiopia, Vietnam and elsewhere, so communicating across a language barrier is a common obstacle, as well as working out how to allow those young people who are Muslim to practise their faith whilst the families practise their Christianity.

Jen, whose home is now a 'Welcome Centre' where all UASCs arriving in York spend their initial months, has now hosted nine boys. "Most of them have been Muslim so we’ve got to know the one Halal outlet in our city pretty well! We’ve developed a good relationship with the local Mosque and can arrange lifts for the boys to get there on Fridays if we can’t take them ourselves."

A bigger struggle is the emotional trauma that each young person is dealing with. Clare explains, “He left home because of a very dangerous situation and his journey was long and traumatic. Everything and everyone he's ever known is a long way away, and that's often hard for him to deal with.”

The boys who have stayed in Jen’s home often have physical scars from beatings and torture. She says, “We never ask them any questions about themselves but find that gradually, over time, they tell us what they want to.” Lynn adds that it's hard not being able to explain the background of the girls who have come to live with them. "We want people to know their pain, but don't want to divulge in an inappropriate way. It's hard to get the balance right."

Another challenge is the difficult process of applying for asylum. Clare’s boy was refused at his first application, which has been unsettling for all of them.

The joys have been plenty too, though, as the children have relaxed and started to trust their new families.

Jen says, “Our youngest children, aged 9 and 10, have been wonderful at helping our guests to have fun and feel like part of the family. They play games, kick a ball and help with homework once language lessons start. Our children have a wonderful empathy for the boys.” A highlight for Sandra was when their boy first called her ‘Mum’. “We realised he regards us as family now.”

Schools have been very supportive too. The school that Lynn’s children attend has wanted to help and be involved, and Clare’s boy has even represented the school in athletics and football. Watching each child’s gifts and strengths develop has been a joy for all families.

The growing community of fostering families in York is a distinct support – there is always someone to ask when the system is unclear or confusing. And with three of these families attending The Belfrey, the church is well resourced for supporting those who foster or adopt prayerfully and practically.

“One lovely lady from our church was DBS checked very early on to be a supportive friend and she still takes our foster daughter out every week,” says Lynn. “The relationship she has formed is absolutely brilliant. Being supportive and offering friendship is so vital.”

Unfortunately, though, the arrival of UASCs has now slowed down and Jen is saddened by this. “There are still children and young people waiting for entry to the UK but there are not enough homes, not enough people – and yet homes are still desperately needed.”

The story in York has been remarkable, but there is still much to be done – here, and across the UK.

The need for foster placements for children in their teens, whether UASC or local, is extremely high. Home for Good’s desire to support fostering of young refugees is borne out of our belief that no matter where you are from, having a home for good is essential. This need is felt by many care experienced young people across the UK still.

If you are feeling prompted to open your home to a child or young person through fostering or adoption, we would love to talk with you and help to identify your next steps. Please contact our enquiry line on 0300 001 0995.

Author:
Lucy Rycroft (DesertMum)


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