In the context of METAdrasi’s activity ′′Foster care for unaccompanied minors′′ which started for the first time in Greece in mid-2016, 100 children have been placed in 84 families.
Two of these families share with us their experience and feelings: The family of Eutychia Mihou that participates since 2017 in the METAdrasi’ short-term foster care of unaccompanied minors, has already hosted eleven children from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.
′′My origin is frοm Asia Minor and I have experiences from my grandparents who were refugees; the idea of providing foster care to a refugee child, seemed extremely familiar to me”, says Argyro, who provides foster care to a three-year-old girl from Afghanistan.
Read the article in Greek, here.
Read below the English translation.
Unaccompanied children: it only takes a giving heart
“We shall be offering them a place to stay, food, a warm hug, a shoulder to cry on until they can be reunited with their families.” This is how, in early 2017, Ms Eutychia Mihou prepared her four children for their family’s participation in METAdrasi’s short term foster care programme for unaccompanied minors. Since then, the family of six that lives in Porto Rafti, has provided a foster home to 11 children from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. “Having five children instead of four doesn’t really make much difference” is the disarming reply that Ms Mihou offers when asked about her decision. She deeply believes that the mothers of these children -women she has never met- would be comforted by the thought of their child living with a Greek family for a while and not wandering alone in the streets.
By now, she is fully convinced it is all a matter of good predisposition. “The first barrier to go is the language, as all children very soon start communicating in Greek”. This is also due to the fact that they all get enrolled in the local school. Cultural differences also get smoothed over by time. “I still recall how surprised a little Syrian boy was when he realized I would be the one driving them to the beach”. The hardest to deal with are the memories of the horrors they have experienced. “We live close to the airport and when one day a helicopter flew low over our house, the two siblings from Aleppo fell simultaneously on the floor covering their little heads” she describes. “They told us that this is what their parents had taught them to do in order to survive the regular bombings of their neighborhood”.
But there are also pleasant surprises. “Once, the young Syrian boy who was living with us, approached hesitantly the piano –he had never seen one before” recounts Ms Mihou who then encouraged the boy to try the keys. His emotional reaction was so profound that his foster mother arranged for him to have piano lessons that eventually revealed the boy’s musical talent and helped him get into the musical school in Germany he is currently attending. There have also been other children that “blossomed” during their stay with the family. “That is also because they are right from the beginning in the company of another four children, one of which usually becomes a close companion and helps them feel at home” Ms Mihou explains. “In this way a warm atmosphere soon builds up which gets even more relaxed during the holidays”.
“Parting is not very hard as both sides are prepared for it from the very beginning”. And in any case, it doesn’t bring an end to their communication. The children of the Mihou family keep in touch with their former housemates over the internet and she herself, as she travels often for work, always tries to meet up with her “children” when visiting the country they have resettled in.
From the first time she saw her, staring at her with her big eyes along with other children out of the window of an apartment in central Athens, she knew it was her. “This is the girl I will be taking care of” she whispered to herself. Argyro, now 47, had made up her mind to become a foster parent a long time ago. “I have ancestry from Asia Minor, I’ve listened to the stories of my refugee grandparents and so the thought of becoming a foster parent to a refugee child only came naturally to me”. She felt even calmer after “I realized I was in the hands of experienced professionals who made sure I was well prepared to take every next step”. Since the day Argyro welcomed in her home the 3-year-old from Afghanistan, over two, “very beautiful”, years have gone by.
Argyro, who is self-employed, has slowed down her daily schedule and no longer overworks herself, dedicating more of her time to her foster child. The 47-year-old has explained to the girl that she isn’t her biological mother as, of course, she has explained also to everyone in their social circle. Young S. will soon be attending preschool, having already attended 2 years in the neighborhood’s public kindergarten, is taking swimming and judo lessons and occasionally goes horse riding. “She’s very athletic” Argyro says proudly, “during the lockdown, as all other activities were cancelled, I taught her how to ride a bike”.
A hundred children in Greek families
“During a trip to Holland, I found out that minor refugees can greatly benefit from living within a foster family and it was then that I decided it was worth trying this practice in Greece too” recalls Ms Laura Pappa, president of METAdrasi, of how she originally became motivated to create a foster care programme. Since 2016 the program has been supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, it has been funded by the European Committee and is being implemented in close collaboration with local authorities and the District Attorneys. Today, the interdisciplinary team of METAdrasi is more than happy with the results as, despite all the difficulties (the recent lockdown only making things even harder), a hundred unaccompanied minors (32 girls, 68 boys) have successfully been placed with 84 Greek families. “Quite unlike Holland and other countries where children are mostly hosted by families of the same nationality or even distant relatives, in Greece most foster families are of Greek origin” remarks Ms Pappa.
Greece being as a “transit” country for refugees also explains why other options don’t exist. And as most of the children are waiting to be reunited with their families in other EU countries, a large number (41%) of these foster placements are short term. “I consider short term fostering the utmost gesture of solidarity” stresses Ms Pappa. Long term foster parenting amounts to 54,5% and there are some 4,5% urgent placements lasting even just a few days, in cases such as when a biological parent needs to be hospitalized.
A critical part of the programme is the training of the candidate foster parents, initially in the form of information seminars. “During these meetings, among other issues, we insist on clarifying the concept of foster parenting, as many people view this procedure as a first stage to an adoption” points out Ms Pappa. “In the following phase we present our candidates with a series of hypothetical situations that they could possibly face as foster parents and we ask them what they believe would be the appropriate reaction”. Successful integration of children with the foster families is the programme’s secret of success. And this positive experience is reflected in the anonymous answers that foster families gave to a survey held by the organization. In fact, the answers to the question on whether they would encourage other parents to become foster parents too, were by a 29,8% “very probably” and by a 70,2% “unreservedly yes”.
Foster parenting is in a transition state in Greece, awaiting the implementation of a new law that was passed in 2018. “This new law, 4538 of 2018, takes, is overall, a positive step forward but we have proposed certain improvements, specifically on the issue of unaccompanied minors, with an aim of preventing unsuccessful placements” stresses Ms Pappa. “One of our proposals is that both the training and the continuous support of the foster families should be taken on by professionals specialised in placing unaccompanied minors with foster families”.
The activity “Foster Care for Unaccompanied Children” was initiated with funding by EEA Grants, through Bodossaki Foundation and is supported by UNHCR, with funding by the European Commission.