Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children #2 AK’s Story

Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children #2 AK’s Story

I’ll never forget the first time I met my first unaccompanied asylum-seeking child. AK was 13 and although he was skinny and baby faced, had a look that was already drawn with worry and fear. It was a custody suit in the Midlands and AK was brought out from his cell to meet me not knowing who or what I was nor was he able to understand anything I said. The police gave us access to language line and then we set about trying to reassure him that he was safe and he was going to be looked after.

6 years on and AK is talking to me in perfect English about how his A levels are going and his plans for university. He still recalls perfectly that moment all those years previously when we first met. “ I was so scared” he tells me with a smile. He actually recalls this moment almost every time we meet.

AK was from Afghanistan. In those days almost all new referrals were from there. He and his family had fled the Taliban’s persecution only for him to get left behind when getting on a lorry somewhere in Eastern Europe. Despite all the searches we could with the home office and British Red Cross he has never found them and despite his success one can still see that sadness in him.

In many ways AK’s case has been a mirror to the progress of our social work team. In the beginning we knew very little about what we were doing. We did not really know about the asylum process or the roles of the home office, solicitors and the courts. We had no real insights into how he would respond to the interventions and services we, as the professionals tasked with the duty of his care, would prescribe. And lastly we had very little understanding of how he saw the world around him.

After six years we have both learned so much. He still looks at me as an important person in his life and I am so proud of how hard he has worked to overcome all his challenges.

However, I often wish I had known then what I know now. Perhaps if we had taken a more comprehensive social history and had had more of an awareness of his background, we could have perhaps done more in those early days to help him find his family. Before we knew anything about family tracing the trail had long gone cold.

They say we learn best from our mistakes. This is fine for our own lives but when our job is to provide effective, quality care to others we need as much knowledge, insight and understanding as possible. The unaccompanied asylum-seeking child is perhaps the most traumatised, damaged, and mysterious young person a social worker will ever encounter coming into care. If only there had been somewhere where we could have gained all the knowledge to meet their needs in one go. Somewhere where we could gain an understanding of their lived experience and their view of the world around them, somewhere that would break down the myriad issues into a process that not only works but can be repeated, somewhere that would give us the insights into how to make them safe from things like trafficking and exploitation, how to make timely referrals to the services they need, and lastly how we help them deal with the things that have happened to them and help them move on and become productive happy functioning citizens.

It has taken us years to get where we are now, and we are still learning. This is an ever-changing situation. New legislation comes in, new research becomes available. Even the children are changing. Where once we had Afghans, we are now seeing Sudanese and Eritreans. In fact the range of nationalities is increasing each year

Most UASC have seen more violence and trauma then we can comprehend.

They need our help. They put their trust in our ability to help them. They always have. If only we knew then what we know now……

Dave Atherton

Dave will be delivering a training session alongside Lisa Nelson and Mike Hand at NWG Derby on 19thJune 2019 Details and booking at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/introduction-to-working-with-unaccompanied-asylum-seeking-children-derby-tickets-61287118421