Home for Good (http://www.homeforgood.org.uk) wants to find a nurturing home for every child in the UK care system. The charity has recently extended its remit to work with unaccompanied refugee minors. CEO Krish Kandiah recently spoke to Sheila Marshall.
SM How did your passion to help these children come about?
KK In Psalm 68, God says he is a ‘father to the fatherless’ and a ‘protector of widows and orphans’. It is as though he is deliberately saying that, for those that have no support network, ‘I’m going to take special responsibility for them’.
If you search for the word ‘orphan’ in Scripture, there are so many occurrences. My wife and I had three birth children. We had talked about using our home for fostering or adoption many times, but never did anything about it. But circumstances and rediscovering those Scripture passages woke us up to this need.
SM How do you see the situation for child refugees in the UK at this time?
KK We are in an exciting and challenging moment in human history. Many people say this is the biggest crisis to hit our world since WW2, because of the situation in the Middle East, especially Syria and Iraq.
We have all been shocked watching the news about places like Aleppo and Mosul: serial bombing, people afraid of their own government, but also afraid of groups like Isis.
Civilians are caught in the crossfire. Most people want to stay in their home areas, but it isn’t safe.
SM What did you learn from visiting refugee camps?
KK I hesitate to use the term ‘refugee camps’, because they’re not organised. In Lebanon, they are like shanty towns of informal dwellings. Some people have tried to get their whole family out, but that’s not been possible because it costs money to pay some pretty shady characters.
Some families can’t afford to travel as a group, so they send their children away; some are unaccompanied, because their parents have died; and others don’t know where their parents are. If we were in their place and there was no way we could travel as a family, I would send my kids ahead, because we love our kids and are willing to lay our lives down for them.
SM What do refugee children face on their journey?
KK According to groups like Save the Children, they are incredibly vulnerable from people traffickers and sexual exploitation. Some are being used as cheap factory labour.
SM Why do some come to the UK?
KK Some have relatives here in the UK and they’re trying to reunite with them. Some speak English, so that’s another reason to come here.
SM Why should the church get involved in the crisis?
KK For many refugee children and young people, foster care is a brilliant place, compared to a detention centre or hostel, where they won’t get the love and support they might need. There is a deficit of 9,000 carers across the UK. If we are going to receive extra children in from outside, we’ve got a double challenge. I don’t think that we have reached capacity, even looking at the churches.
SM What has Home for Good done about accommodating refugee children?
KK On the same day that David Cameron announced the UK is going to take 20,000 refugees in, Home for Good launched a campaign through the social media asking churches to come forward and start the process of becoming foster carers.
SM What’s the response been?
KK Since we launched our campaign, over 14,000 people have said they wanted to help. Some of those are from the church and others are members of the public that heard about our campaign and wanted to help.
SM What view should Christians take of becoming a carer?
KK What we say to people, particularly Christians, is that God cares for vulnerable children and doesn’t show any distinction based on race, immigration status or history. A vulnerable child is a child in need, whether from the UK or elsewhere. We are saying, ‘Come on church. Let’s step up and be the answer to this problem’.
SM What things have encouraged you?
KK Often a refugee’s status and needs are assessed in a hostel, outward-bound centre or ex-detention centre. These are cold and uninviting environments. The traumatised kids are then placed somewhere that isn’t necessarily going to nurture them.
But a Christian couple in the northeast, who have worked cross-culturally before and have Master’s degrees in refugee work and social work, are using their home as a reception centre for up to five refugee children and young adults.
All the paperwork gets processed in a family context. When it’s appropriate, the children move on to foster care or supported lodging. So, there is some innovative practice going on; the church working with local government in a way that demonstrates God’s compassion.
SM How do you work with the government?
KK Sometimes the Christian relationship to government seems to be about being a ‘nag’ and we’ve got a protest mentality. There is a place for that, but our own approach has been: ‘The government has said it’s going to receive refugee children into the country. We think that’s a good thing. Yes, the government could be taking more, but it’s good that they’re doing this much. How can we encourage and help them?’
A major problem in the UK is that we don’t have the finances to meet all the commitments we’ve got in fostering and adoption, local provision and mental health. But when we visit the government, we say, ‘We have 12,500 people who want to help. We’ve got a network of churches that want to get involved at a local level and help welcome refugees’. It doesn’t always work perfectly, but when the authorities see you genuinely want to help, they kind of don’t care where you’ve come from!
SM As a Christian organisation, have you had to tone down what you believe, in order to work with a secular government?
KK Our Christian faith is our motivator. We can’t cut that out, and only give practical help. Then we wouldn’t give the help; or we would do it as a fad for a few weeks and lose motivation. We’ve got to be open about our faith, but we need to offer it in a very humble and very generous way.
SM: What impact does your work have on your family? If I walked into your house, what would I see?
KK We have seven children: three birth children and four looked-after children. You would hear a lot of giggles and laughter. You’d hear homework getting done and literacy being developed.
I’ve been delighted, as a father, seeing godly qualities being demonstrated by my teens as they get alongside vulnerable kids. They are incredibly hospitable, adaptable and generous. Those are Christian virtues that have developed because they’ve had 10 years of caring alongside us.
You’d hear kids that feel very much at home in church. If a kid’s got ADHD, learning difficulties or physical challenges, the church finds a way to include it in Sunday school. People visit us quite a lot, because our foster and adoptive children have spiritual ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ in the church that take an interest in their lives.
Certain members of the church give presents, send postcards from holidays, or babysit. When we have a baby, members of the church pop round with a meal. By this action they’re saying, ‘We value what you’re doing and want to stand alongside. Here’s a meal that takes the pressure off a little bit’.
SM Do you expect more Christians will step forward to meet the need?
KK I think the church is waking up to this as a way of serving God. A few used to think of foster care as a way to earn money, if you didn’t have any qualifications. These mindsets are still in the wider culture and even in the church.
But the church is beginning to wake up and see it’s not about us getting the kids that we want, but about being the parents that these children need. We think the reason an increasing number of Christians are putting themselves forward is because they recognise God is working in this area.
SM: How has this impacted your faith? Have there been any surprises?
KK My understanding of ‘worship’ has changed by caring for vulnerable kids. What we do to someone made in God’s image is a reflection of how we feel about the God they are imaging. Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan to underline that your neighbour is anyone in need you have opportunity to care for.
My prayer is that, through the church, God would provide for this need and change the lives of children; but also change the lives of Christians, who would become closer to God as a result of it all.