AFCS was registered as an independent national family counselling service in 1985. It provided a sensitive and appropriate counselling service to the Asian communities settled in Yorkshire. From 1983 to 1985, it operated under the umbrella of the then National Marriage Guidance Council (now Relate). In 1986, an office in London was opened which was followed by others in the East and West Midlands.
Our Objectives when we started were:
- to advance education among people of South Asian origin and in particular, among those resident in the UK, about all aspects of marriage and family relationships with a view to developing personal responsibilities and enriching family life;
- to safeguard and protect the good health, both mental and physical, of adults and children of South Asian origin, resident in the UK and to prevent the hardship and distress caused by the breakdown of marriage;
- to educate the public, statutory and voluntary organisations about the particular issues faced by the South Asian population.
This was done within the wider context that South Asian families were "different"; and that it was not the done thing for public servants such as the Police, teachers, health professionals and social workers to interfere with the cultural, religious and moral values of South Asian communities. This attitude was exemplified by a "no questions asked" approach when girls were taken unexpectedly out of school or women presented themselves at their GPs or hospitals with signs of physical abuse.
Through our work with communities of South Asian origin we have identified several areas which have directed how we operated both within those communities and with statutory and government agencies.
In 1986, AFCS organised a seminar in Bradford on 'Runaway Asian Girls', which was attended by a number of statutory and voluntary agencies. This was the first ever acknowledgement that Asian families were undergoing family stress which was affecting the majority of communities. The particular issue highlighted was of young women being forced into marriages and being taken out of Britain to be married and left in the Indian Subcontinent. At that time, once a young woman was out of the UK, she was effectively on her own, without easy access to the consular services normally available to UK nationals abroad.
In 2001, AFCS helped the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to establish a special unit to deal with the issue of forced marriages. An AFCS counsellor was seconded to the FCO for 5 years to provide this specialised form of counselling. AFCS works closely with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and other voluntary and statutory organisations on the issue of forced marriages.
Demand for counselling is increasing among Asian families. Second and third generation Asians who were born and brought up in the UK have adopted Western ways. This has created a great deal of tension in many families. The younger generation feel that they not only have to cope with what they perceive to be the generation gap but also a “culture gap”: young people feel they are caught between two cultures. They are under pressure to conform to the cultural values of their parents but are unable to do so, as they want to keep up and fit in with the wider society and communities in which they live.
Many Asian women have changed, becoming more assertive. Young girls expect a different kind of marriage from that experienced and expected by their mothers and grandmothers.
AFCS works actively with families where domestic violence is the main cause of family breakdown. It has close links with the Police in every part of the country. Safe houses and refuges can be arranged for women undergoing domestic violence.
In recent years, AFCS has worked with immigration and legal professionals to tackle the issue of spouses abandoned overseas by British partners. We have provided support to individuals; enabling them to come to the UK, establish lives here and, in some cases be reunited with children.