Dr Justin Rogers (Lecturer, Department of Social & Policy Sciences), Caroline Hickman (Teaching Fellow, Department of Social & Policy Sciences) and Dr Sam Carr (Lecturer, Department of Education) received £1,300 to collaborate with fostering charity TACT and a group of unaccompanied refugee children to tackle a recruitment challenge faced by the charity and to shift public perceptions about fostering unaccompanied child refugees.
The resultant project was shortlisted for Engage, a prestigious public engagement competition run by the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement.
The project overview
Recent conflicts in countries near Europe have led to a greater number of people applying for asylum in the UK. In 2015, 3,043 of them were children. Although the public has generally been welcoming to refugees, there have been few people coming to the fostering and adoption agency, TACT, looking to foster children that came to the UK alone. People already registered as foster carers have also been nervous about offering places to refugee children. TACT felt this was largely because of the current social stigma surrounding immigrants. Foster carers were worried that they would not be able to fully support refugee children with different social or religious needs.
A group of 14 to 17 year old young people in foster care and from Afghanistan and Albania were given cameras so that they could take photos of things that were important to them in their day-to-day lives. The photos were then shared with foster carers and displayed in public so that people could gain a better understanding of their lives.
Elaine Graham, Area Manager for TACT said:
'As a fostering service we are experiencing significant challenges in finding homes for young unaccompanied asylum seekers. This project was innovative in how it brought together research expertise from Bath to help us bring about change. Early results have been very good and this kind of work shows the importance of this kind of collaboration.'
Justin, Caroline, and Sam worked alongside Elaine Graham (Area Manager, TACT), to hold a number of workshops for the young refugee people. They drew and painted with a local artist, made music with students from the University, went rock climbing and played cricket. The young people were able to have fun, find new interests and the photos help showcase their talents and strengths.
Dr Justin Rogers said:
'This has been such an exciting and worthwhile project, which was made possible through the funding and support provided by the University of Bath Public Engagement Unit. Alongside this, the support from Elaine and our colleagues at TACT South West has resulted in a collaboration that has promoted the need for more foster carers for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to a wide audience.'
Seeing 'child' first and 'refugee' second
Photo-voice is a research method that enables people to express themselves through photography. The young people recorded their new surroundings in South West England. The photos showed them adapting and thriving in their new homes and building new relationships with their foster carers. They were empowered to create a story for themselves.
A group of foster carers attended a workshop where they got to talk about their perceptions of fostering unaccompanied asylum seeking minors and see the photos taken by the young people. By the end of the workshop, all the carers expressed an interest in finding out more and said they would now consider fostering refugee young people.
Fostering Hope aimed to share the refugee young people’s lives with the local community. An exhibition of their art was displayed at the Celebrating Sanctuary Festival in Bristol in association with the charity Bristol Refugee Rights. The posters were then moved to the gallery at The Edge Arts.
The young people were all keen to take part in and enjoyed the project. The researchers were careful to make sure the young people were at the centre of the whole project and adapted the workshops to their interests. The partnership between TACT and the researchers was highly valuable to all involved and will continue in to the future, with new projects already planned. Caroline and Justin will be further involved in training sessions and workshops for social workers and foster carers about fostering refugee children.
Justin, Caroline and Sam are working on sharing the project with other academics through conferences and research publications. Justin has published an article on The Conversation about the project and has used his experience here to apply for further research funding. Caroline has been consulting for TACT, talking to the young people about their experiences of being displaced.
It is hoped that this project has helped in some small way to change views on asylum seeking young people and that more people will continue to come forward to offer foster homes.
Caroline Hickman said:
'The images appear as ordinary photographs to be found on any young person’s phone. However, given the context of forced migration and the loss of family and place, the images take on extraordinary meaning and communicate the young people’s new sense of belonging and their growing attachments to their carers and communities.'