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Frequently asked questions

Who are young refugees?

Young refugees are a diverse group with many different experiences and cultural backgrounds. Any young person under 18 who enters Northern Ireland without a parent or carer is considered a young refugee. The term ‘young refugee’ covers all children and young people who have been separated from their family and carers and find themselves alone and seeking protection in Northern Ireland.

They may also be referred to as:

  • Separated child
  • UASC (unaccompanied asylum seeking child)
  • Unaccompanied minor
  • Unaccompanied young refugee
Where do young refugees come from?

All young refugees are unique, as are the circumstances that have led to their arrival in Northern Ireland.  Many young refugees come from countries in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia and arrive into Northern Ireland without a parent or responsible adult. Most are teenagers aged 14-17 and have been separated from their families and find themselves in a new country facing the challenge of different customs and a different language.

Young refugees have fled countries such as Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Sudan. In many cases, these young people are fleeing danger and war, they may have been victims of trafficking or exploitation, or their parent or carer has disappeared. These circumstances are hugely challenging and the young people desperately need a safe and welcoming home environment where they will receive practical and emotional support and care. It is our wish that these young people will be able to integrate into local communities, making new friends and learning English. Ideally, we hope to find homes where there is a current or potential understanding of the young person’s heritage, culture, and religion.

We are actively recruiting foster carers and supported lodgings hosts who are in the position to support these vulnerable young people who come from a range of ethnic, linguistic, religious, and cultural backgrounds.

Does this appeal apply to Ukrainian refugees?

The purpose of this appeal is to increase the pool of foster carers and supported lodgings hosts for any child or young person under 18 who arrives in Northern Ireland without a parent or carer, regardless of their country of origin. The appeal is being run on behalf of HSC NI Foster Care.

The ongoing war in Ukraine has resulted in increased humanitarian needs with many people being displaced and seeking refuge outside their country. Work is also being progressed to welcome refugees from Ukraine to Northern Ireland under schemes run by the UK Home Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. More information on the Ukraine Family Scheme and the Homes for Ukraine Scheme is available on the NI Direct website.

Why is there a public appeal for foster carers and supported lodgings hosts?

HSC NI Foster Care is seeking more foster carers and supported lodgings hosts who can provide care and support to young refugees. This follows a marked increase in the number of young refugees who are arriving in Northern Ireland being received into care in the past year.

What is the difference between fostering and supporting lodgings?

Foster carers offer a safe, supportive and caring home to children and young people of all ages who are unable to live with their birth parents. Young refugees often arrive in Northern Ireland and some are placed with foster carers who welcome them into their home and provide a nurturing family environment.

Supported lodgings/STAY is an alternative to foster care that offers young people aged 16+ the opportunity to live in the home of an approved ‘host’ or family for up to two years. Young people living in supported lodgings are given the opportunity to develop the life skills they will need in preparation for moving to their own home at a time when they are ready. Young people who require supported lodgings include those who have been in care, young people who have experienced family breakdown and can no longer live with a parent or relative and young refugees who are living in Northern Ireland without a parent or carer.

Supported lodgings hosts are still able to work while providing a home for a young refugee. As most young people are aged 16+ the host can work as long as they have enough flexibility to support a young person with their health, attend some appointments and engage in education and training. You will need to be available for training, meeting with your social worker and any emergencies.

Types of Fostering
Emergency Foster Care

Placement in a home environment at the point of arrival to Northern Ireland will be the preferred option for some young refugees who need a nurturing family environment and a high level of care and support on arrival. We are therefore seeking foster carers who can provide a home on an emergency basis for young refugees on arrival to Northern Ireland. When young people first arrive it is likely the carer will need to be at home full time to help them settle and whilst they are waiting for a school or college placement.  Emergency foster carers will be well supported, receive extensive training and generous fostering allowances commensurate with their role and the level of support they will provide to young refugees.

Short term and long term fostering

Find out about short term and long term foster care here

Who can become a foster carer or supported lodgings host for a young refugee

There is no such thing as a typical foster carer or supported lodgings host and all sorts of people become great carers/ hosts. We welcome people from all backgrounds regardless of race, religion, language, culture, gender, disability, age, or sexual orientation. You can be single, married, cohabiting, have children at home and don’t need to have parenting experience.

What support and training can I expect to receive?

Prior to becoming an approved foster carer or supported lodgings host you will attend initial training ‘Caring for a Young Refugee’.  Once you are approved as a foster carer or supported lodgings host you will be able to access a range of training courses which will help to extend your knowledge, skills and confidence in caring for vulnerable children and young people including young refugees.

What type of care and support do I need to provide to young refugees?

Foster carers and supported lodgings hosts will be expected to provide a safe and supportive home environment for young refugees to enable their recovery from previous trauma.

Carers/ hosts should be able to offer the young person a room of their own, provide emotional support and a chance to learn life skills. They will support young people with day to day needs such as education and health, including their emotional and mental wellbeing and will be required to attend some meetings with the team of professionals around the young person.

Young refugees can show remarkable resilience but they need good support, help to establish links in the local community, to make friends and build support networks. This will help them to feel supported, gain confidence and adapt to life in a new country during what is otherwise a challenging time in their young lives.

Alongside the tasks of caring for and providing support to these young people on a day to day basis, you will also need to support them through the process of applying for permission to stay in Northern Ireland.  Carers/ hosts will support young people to develop the skills they will need to make the transition to adulthood in a new country.

What support do young refugees receive with their health?

All young refugees will be supported to access a specialist clinic to support their health and social wellbeing. This service aims to support all new entrants by offering health and blood screening, health education and sign posting to other services. Covid 19 testing will also be completed.

What support is available where the young person speaks little or no English?

Some young refugees speak very good English whereas others have minimal spoken or written English.  You will be able to access interpreting services via phone and face to face. Young people and carers often very quickly adapt their own creative ways of communicating (e.g. visuals, emojis, google translate).

Does my faith need to be the same as the young refugee?

No. Your religion is not a barrier to your application to foster. Young refugees should be placed with foster carers and supported lodgings hosts that can meet their needs, including their religious needs. You need to be open to learning about new cultures and faiths, accepting of the young person’s cultural values and prepared to actively supporting them to access their faith. We are seeking foster carers who are in the position to support young refugees who come from a range of ethnic, linguistic, religious, and cultural backgrounds.

Can I care for a young refugee if I am LGBTQIA+?

Yes. We welcome foster carers or supported lodgings hosts, regardless of sexual orientation.

Can I care for a young refugee if I have pets?

Owning pets will not prevent you from becoming a foster carer or supported lodgings host. Pets will be assessed as part of the application process to ensure their temperament and behaviour does not pose a risk to anyone living in the household. In some cultures pets in the home are not the norm. Living with a pet can therefore be a new and intimidating experience and the young person’s views on pets will be taken into account during the matching process.

Do I need British or Irish citizenship in order to become a foster carer or supported lodgings host?

We are seeking foster carers and supported lodgings hosts from different family, cultural, religious, social and linguistic backgrounds to reflect the diversity of young refugees. You must however be a permanent resident in Northern Ireland and/ or have indefinite leave to remain.

Do I have to speak English to a high standard to be a foster care or supported lodgings host for a young refugee?

You will need a good level of written and spoken English so that you can communicate with other professionals about the needs of the young person, participate in the assessment and planning process and support their engagement with education, sports and the local community. Young refugees are usually very motivated to engage in education and training and helping them to access courses and learn to speak English is an important part of the caring role.

Do young refugees have contact with their family?

As with any looked after child we will support contact with birth family and family reunification where it is safe to do so. For those who have no contact this can be an area where additional emotional support from the carer / host is needed as they may not know if their families are safe or alive. The Red Cross provide assistance with family tracing.

Do young refugees go to school/ have hobbies?

Education is extremely important to young refugees and they can be keen to start this right away. An assessment of their education needs is undertaken and this will determine whether they attend mainstream schooling or alternative education provision.

Even if they are not in full time education or are doing night classes, many young people are capable of remaining home alone during the day if the carer is at work. Often they engage in hobbies, meet peers or practice their faith/ religious observance during the day. It is important to remember that young refugees are typical teenagers and as such enjoy activities such as football, gaming, social media, and shopping.

What support is available to young refugees?

All young refugees receive a high level of support from their social worker, personal adviser and a range of other professionals and support services depending on their needs. Advocacy and legal advice relating to their asylum claim is provided by an Independent Guardian and Immigration Solicitor. Young people, carers and hosts are able to access interpreting services to address any language barriers.