Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children #1
In 2013 I started to work with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, having already worked for years as a social worker in safeguarding I didn’t feel too overwhelmed with the change of role. Little did I know that the area of work I was about to enter would take years of experience and research to get to grips with. There was very little in the way of specialist training and so I did the generic age assessment training and started in the role with some confidence.
One of the first young people I met was a young man from Vietnam, he was being held in an adult prison, having been arrested for cultivating cannabis. However, he was claiming to be a child and so we had to complete an age assessment. What a complex piece of work that turned out to be, with the complication of Vietnamese people classing themselves as being 1 year old on the day they were born it took a lot of research and work to complete the assessment, which supported the claim that this was in fact a child being held in an adult prison (the training did not prepare me for these complications!).
We fought for a transfer to a young offenders institution, little did I know that we should have been fighting for his release and referring him as a victim of child trafficking! He was transferred to a young offenders institution and along with a committed youth offending worker we produced reports for court and saw him released on tag. While I had recognised that he was a victim of trafficking and completed an NRM, I did not realise the implication of this and how I could have used this to get him released and his conviction quashed. Once out on tag I got some advice from a trafficking specialist, I identified a specialist solicitor in London and eventually his conviction was quashed!
I supported this young person until he was 18 and transferred to a personal advisor as a care leaver. While I and other professionals around him ensured his basic needs were met, he seemed happy, and engaged really well with what was offered, on reflection I was not knowledgeable about his specific needs, the risk in the community of being trafficked once again and how to engage him in the community and his cultural needs. He was in an area where ESOL could only be provided part time, while we arranged alternate study for the time he was not studying ESOL, this did not provide the focused education he required, he had to travel to access his cultural needs and has since engaged in work within a nail bar. He is an adult now and has a right to make such choices, however I worry he could be being exploited again, I always wonder whether I could have done more, if I had known then what I have learnt since I would certainly have made different choices in the provision of care rather than just meeting his basic needs. He was such a polite, thankful young man, always appreciative of everything provided to him. I wonder if he were more demanding, maybe complained more about his situation whether he would have been moved to another area that could have enabled us to work with him differently. I have worked with young people in similar situations since and the knowledge and experience I have gained over the last 6 years has impacted on the way that I work with them, I have seen much more positive outcomes, I wish I had that level of knowledge back in 2013 when I worked with this young man!
Lisa will be delivering a training session alongside Dave Atherton 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