THE boss of Britain’s largest children’s charity has called on more Asian parents to consider fostering.
Javed Khan, CEO of Barnado’s, made the plea after new figures showed that while around eight per cent of the UK population is Asian, only four per cent of foster-carers come from this background.
The charity started a campaign last week to target key areas in the North East and South West of England, where they found a shortage of Asian carers.
“There’s this big mismatch from those coming forward from the Asian community to offer themselves as caring, loving foster parents,” Khan told Eastern Eye.
“There isn’t necessarily a tradition within Asian communities of fostering. People have their own children by birth, then some say there’s cultural and historical practices in Asian communities of heritage, family name, property, legacy, and so on; none of which would apply in the fostering setting.
“I don’t think children in Asian communities even grow up thinking of that as a model of a family.”
According to the charity, there are over 63,000 children in care in the UK, and around 22 per cent are from a black and minority communities.
Khan said it was “absolutely crucial” that children were matched with appropriate families, particularity with those who share a background similar to the child.
“We’ve been doing this for a very long time. Our preoccupations is matching the child with the most appropriate loving family environment.
“Appropriateness can be defined in many ways. Having similar cultural and religious practices are really important in making sure their identity is supported.
It’s also whatever else that makes a child most at home, cared for and loved,” Khan explained. “With a lot of foster-care children, English is not their first language so their cultural practices need to be replicated to make them feel that they have an identity.”
Abdul Mohammed and his wife Zahida, from Birmingham, have been fostering children for two years. They are currently looking after two teenage boys, aged 13 and 15, who are refugees from Tunisia and Afghanistan. Mohammed, 47, also has three children – his eldest daughter, 28, just had a baby, and their youngest is aged ten.
Mohammed said: “We first decided we wanted to foster after visiting an orphanage in Pakistan five years ago. We realised how much children need love and a family.
“We went to see the children early in the morning and they were wrapped up in heavy clothing because it was so cold. That image hits you hard and you think you’ve just got to do something.”
The couple thought about adoption, but because of the complexities of bringing a child over from another country they opted for fostering instead. “I thought I’d go with a well-known establishment so we contacted Barnado’s. In this country, fostering is more straightforward. Adopting someone from Pakistan would have taken forever.”
For the refugees, communication was a bit of a problem but this soon eased after they learnt some English.
“One of the boys couldn’t really speak much English when he first arrived, but over the past six months, his language skills have really improved. Initially my wife and I spoke to him in Urdu, but we spoke in different dialects, so sometimes this was tricky.
“But we’ve learnt so much from having the boys stay with us. They’ve taught us new Afghan and Tunisian songs, and TV programmes. We’ve also done our best to make them feel welcome. My brother owns a Turkish restaurant, and I’ve taken the Tunisian lad along as the food reminds him of home,” Mohammed added.
The couple get regular training and feedback from Barnado’s, who call them in for one day sessions a few times a year.
Mohammed explained: “Looking after children claiming asylum in the UK can be quite demanding. My wife does a lot of work to support the boys, taking them along to appointments and things. Some of the meetings can be up to three hours, which can be draining.
“Barnado’s however keep on top of you and push you. Their training is based around empathy.
“The boys play with our ten year old too, and we all get on really well as a family together. It’s really rewarding to see these children just get the chance to be children.”
For more information, go to www.barnardos.org.uk