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Fostering Hope: Shifting perceptions of refugee children and young people

A research team from the departments of Education and Social & Policy Sciences received funding to change public views about fostering child refugees.


Over six months in 2016, Fostering Hope brought together researchers from the University of Bath in partnership with Bristol-based fostering charity TACT (The Adolescent and Children’s Trust) to tackle a recruitment challenge in finding new foster carers for refugee children. The team worked with a group of fostered refugee children, sharing their experiences through a photo-voice project designed to challenge some of the many of the misconceptions that exist and act as barriers to fostering.

Engagement type - Working Together, Listening

Public group - fostered refugee children and young people and their carers and professionals from fostering charity TACT

Engagement method - participatory photography

Themes- young people,

Project team

Dr Justin Rogers, Department of Social & Policy Sciences

Caroline Hickman, Department of Social & Policy Sciences

Dr Sam Carr, Department of Education

The Adolescent and Children’s Trust

Facts and figures

Fostering Hope received £1,300 from the Public Engagement Unit as part of the Engage Grants.

Purpose of engagement

Three people standing next to each other outside an office in a corridor
The Fostering Hope project team

The project aimed to

  • investigate the views of foster carers towards the way unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people are perceived

  • challenge any misconceptions about unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people

  • develop a more empathetic understanding of refugee children amongst foster carers

Project background

Research by TACT, the largest fostering and adoption agency in the UK, suggested few people were approaching the agency with a view to adopting unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people and existing foster carers were more reluctant to offer places to this group. The research suggested the reluctance was largely due to social stigma surrounding immigrants in general and that foster carers were nervous about their ability to fully support children with different social and/or religious needs. Researchers from the Departments of Education and Social & Policy Sciences have carried out research on the experiences of young people in the care system and wanted to develop research projects looking specifically at unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people.

Engagement approach

An illustrations showing a group of children from different ethnic backgrounds standing in a circle
An artwork created by the young people and one of the Fostering Hope workshop artists

The project team worked collaboratively with TACT to engage refugee fostered young people and their carers. They adopted three approaches to successfully meet the aims of the project

Focus groups

Organised by TACT, the team ran a series of focus groups with foster carers better understand their experiences and their perceptions of fostering unaccompanied asylum seeking minors, and workshops for the young people, to give them a voice to drive the research and help shape the direction of the project.

Participatory research

Working with TACT the team recruited a group of seven young people in foster care aged between 14 and 17 and originally from Afghanistan and Albania. Over a series of workshops to get to know the team and each other the group drew and painted with a local artist, made music with students from the University, went rock climbing and played cricket. They were also introduced to the participatory methodology of photo-voice were given cameras so they could take photographs of things that were important to them in their day-to-day lives, record their new surroundings in south west England. Working with artists the young people created posters based on their photographs.

View the posters created by the young people who participated in Fostering Hope.

Sharing and celebrating

Fostering Hope also shared the refugee children’s lives with the local community with the ambition of generating more interest in fostering. The posters created by the young people were used as part of a workshop by TACT for potential foster carers to help demonstrate how the young people were adapting to their new life and building positive relationships. They also formed part of an exhibition 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, University of Bath.

Listen to an interview with the project team about Fostering Hope


The team adopted an approach to their evaluation that was focused on the as we could openly talk about how the project was progressing (positives and challenges), what the experience was like for the young people and how we might need to develop the sessions with them to suit their interests and needs.

Based on feedback with young people at the end of the project through a focus group they identified a positive sense of empowerment, feeling their voices were being listened to and how their experiences are helping others. The young people also highlighted how they enjoyed participating and had fun and taking part also helped them find new interests. Reflecting on their experience they also mentioned how the project helped them work with their foster carers and developing their relationships.

'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.'

The TACT team and foster carers reflected that putting young people at the heart of the project helped to depoliticise ideas that persist and showing fostered refugees first and foremost as children.

The project also helped to significantly change attitudes and values of potential foster carers, after they attended one of the workshops, met foster carers who currently look after unaccompanied asylum seeking minors and saw their posters, all the carers expressed an interest in finding out more and said they would now consider fostering refugee young people.

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.' ents to their carers and communities.'

Top tips

Caroline Hickman and Dr Justin Rogers in The Edge
Caroline Hickman and Dr Justin Rogers in The Edge where their 'Fostering Hope' posters went on public display earlier this year.

If you’re interested in the approach used by the Fostering Hope team, the following are their top tips:

  • Communication is key with your project partner. At one of the early workshops, attendance was low and this could have been improved with better communication with TACT and by clearly promoting the session to the young people. The project team responded to this, advertising the workshops in the young people’s native languages, and future workshops were well attended.

  • Think carefully about the ethics of participatory research from the beginning. The project team needed to consider how to anonymise the photographs due to the young people’s experiences of trafficking.

Find out more

Following the _Fostering Hope_ project the team have published news pieces in The Conversation, published their research findings in peer reviewed journals and been nominated for a national award.