The story of a homeless Vietnamese teenager whose life was changed by a kind-hearted East Sussex couple is being shared as part of Foster Care Fortnight.
The national awareness campaign runs until Sunday, May 26, and East Sussex County Council is supporting it to highlight the difference people can make by opening their homes to vulnerable young people – whether as a foster carer or supported lodgings provider.
Dong was just 14 years old when he left his family in north Vietnam and travelled to England to attend a boarding school.
“My parents asked me to come to the UK because the education is better than in Vietnam,” he said. “We are Buddhists and we were not allowed to practice our religion in Vietnam, they asked me to come to the UK and I said I would.”
But when his parents were arrested back in Vietnam and unable to pay the fees, the school asked the then 15-year-old to leave.
Dong said: “I didn’t know what had happened to my parents or where they were, and I had nowhere to go. I went to find help from the Vietnamese community - some helped and some were not really nice.
“Sometimes I didn’t find my luck and I ended up sleeping rough by a bus station. I was really cold and lonely, but I didn’t have anyone I knew or anywhere to stay.”
Eventually Dong sought help from East Sussex County Council and was placed in supported lodgings – a scheme designed to help young people gain independence with the support of individuals and families across the county.
Last year, at the age of 16, Dong moved in to the home near Newhaven of Debbie and Nigel Lambert, who became supported lodgings providers four years ago.
“I feel really comfortable here,” said Dong. “It is like a second home, and Debbie and Nigel give me advice on life skills and money skills. It’s like having a guardian on my shoulder helping me with any problems.
“I feel really safe and happy. If I didn’t go to supported lodgings, I don’t know where my life would be.”
Dong now works part time and attends college where he is studying catering, with the hope of one day opening his own restaurant.
Speaking about being a supported lodgings provider, Nigel said: “We get a real buzz out of helping these young people - we love it when they succeed and help them when they fail. You are only scratching the surface of some of the problems these young people face, but any help is better than no help.
“If anyone is thinking of being a supported lodgings provider, I would say do it. It is so rewarding and the support and training you get from East Sussex County Council is phenomenal.”
Anyone interested in finding out more about offering support to a young person by becoming a foster carer or a supported lodgings provider can visit www.eastsussex.gov.uk/childrenandfamilies or call 01323 464129 or 01424 726155, respectively.
More information about Foster Care Fortnight can be found at https://www.thefosteringnetwork.org.uk/fcf19