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About this book

This text explores the challenges and possibilities of working with asylum seeking children and young people, including the different aspects of resettlement, alongside the development and sustainability of good standards of practice. A valuable resource for students and practitioners wanting to understand current debates and support unaccompanied minors.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Telling the Stories of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking and Refugee Children

Social work with unaccompanied refugee children presents social workers with a new challenge. The position of children so completely dislocated from their parents, family, country, culture, language and religion is not replicated in the issues facing professionals working with UK children. Added to this is the traumatic experiences of many children who have faced war, civil conflict or persecution. And lastly there is the unresolved issue of their status as asylum seekers. This makes them an extremely vulnerable group. However, within this there is much evidence of enormous resilience, strength and determination. Finding a way of relating to this very challenging issue means understanding some very complex stories. These stories have many dimensions to them — political, social, psychological and historical. Bringing this together in a chapter which reflects this complexity has meant identifying some helpful concepts and then exploring them in a way that illustrates not only how they might be used but most particularly how they might develop over time. I have chosen to do this by re-telling the story of Andersen’s ‘The Ugly Duckling’. The reader is then invited to use their imagination to make connections between the concepts outlined at the beginning of the chapter, the words of unaccompanied children themselves and a fairy tale.
John Simmonds

Chapter 2. The Legal and Policy Frameworks that Govern Social Work with Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking and Refugee Children in England

In recent years, social work practitioners have become more experienced in their work with unaccompanied children, resulting in their increased awareness of the limitations placed on their work by the particular circumstances of the client group. It is often perceived by social work practitioners that immigration legislation ‘overrides’ the aims and objectives of social work itself. This incompatibility is sometimes expressed as a ‘clash’ or ‘tension’ between immigration policy and policy affecting children, including children who are in need of social work intervention. Guidance issued by the Association for Directors of Social Services (ADSS) makes recognition of this: ‘Many social workers experience a tension between care and immigration legislation’ (ADSS, 2005: 6).
Judith Dennis

Chapter 3. Practitioner Stories

Social Workers, like asylum seekers, sometimes appear to stand in public esteem on the margins of respectability. In a territory that is ambivalent or one in which commentators are poorly informed about the demands of day-to-day practice, there is a tendency to shunt images of social workers into easy and negative compartments — incompetent, bureaucratic, controlling, permissive, abusive, ‘politically correct’, unskilled and lacking common sense, and so on (Ferguson, 2003). Within these labels, stories told about social work practice with unaccompanied minors are generally rather bleak (Stanley, 2001; Humphries, 2004). The formula used by some commentators is simple. They begin with an image of unaccompanied minors as vulnerable and needy. They argue for better resources and practices to alleviate need. They find that social services are poor, disorganised or defensive. They make recommendations for change. There is a confirmation of deficit and it is perhaps unsurprising that when looking for problems, problems are found and manipulated into shapes that give simple messages of need and blame that can rub out the complex lived realities that are part of everyday practice. Social workers are said to fail these children at a number of levels, both organisationally and in direct practice. For example, assessments of their needs are described as rather rudimentary, and the provision of care as a lottery, with a few winners amongst many losers (Kohli, 2007).
Ravi K. S. Kohli

Chapter 4. Assessment Practice with Unaccompanied Children: Exploring Exceptions to the Problem

This chapter focuses upon needs assessment practice with unaccompanied asylum seeking children who have arrived into England. There are three things common to the exiled lives of unaccompanied children. They are separated from their parents or customary care givers, they are cut off from their country of origin and they are subject to immigration controls. A range of needs is likely to arise from these quite exceptional circumstances; their past experiences may also represent risk factors for children and young people in their present and future lives. It is for these reasons that unaccompanied children become the responsibility of local authority social services departments in England. The local authority is required to meet their needs and to find ways to mediate the levels of risk that these children and young people are exposed to. The events precipitating their current circumstances and the way in which individual children and young people have experienced and continue to experience them is likely to differ. Therefore, an ongoing process of assessment is necessary to build an in-depth understanding of the vulnerabilities and competencies of each child or young person, to appreciate the risk and protective factors resulting from their circumstances, and to plan service responses appropriate to their needs and wishes.
Fiona Mitchell

Chapter 5. Therapeutic Encounters between Young People, Bilingual Co-workers and Practitioners

This chapter first introduces some broad structural issues in relation to providing mental health service provision for young people who seek asylum or are refugees. It then considers their mental health needs through the lens of culturally competent therapeutic practice. The main focus of this chapter is the factors that practitioners may wish to consider when providing services for young people in the context of utilising language interpreters.
Hitesh Raval

Chapter 6. Groupwork with Unaccompanied Young Women

This chapter reviews key messages from research related to the mental and emotional health of young unaccompanied refugees. Recent psychological research indicates that unaccompanied minors are at great risk of developing emotional and mental health problems as a result of traumatic experiences in their country of origin and the challenges of being alone in the United Kingdom. Despite these experiences however, the majority of young refugees are surprisingly resilient. The chapter outlines research findings which indicate that social support is an important factor in promoting resilience and in protecting against the development of psychopathology following traumatic and stressful events.
Grace Heaphy, Kimberly Ehntholt, Irene Sclare

Chapter 7. Friends and Family Care of Unaccompanied Children: Recognising the Possible and the Potential

Kinship care, whether formal or informal, appears to have much to offer any child who cannot be cared for by their parents. It may have a considerable amount to offer children who are not only separated from their parents and the home that is familiar to them but from all that is familiar to them. It is such circumstances that unaccompanied asylum seeking children are likely to experience. This chapter aims to explore how the social work profession can work with unaccompanied children and their kinship networks to enable their friends and family to provide them with care. It is possible that such friends and family care arrangements occur informally, however, this discussion focuses upon children who have been identified as ‘unaccompanied asylum seeking children’ and are known to social services. As a result, they become children ‘in need’ and the responsibility of social services. In the main, the chapter explores the development of assessment practice within one social work team based in Kent, in the South East of England.
Maura Kearney

Chapter 8. Using Foster Placements for the Care and Resettlement of Unaccompanied Children

In 2004, unaccompanied children accounted for five per cent of all ‘looked after’ children (DfES, 2005). This proportion is likely to increase, as local authorities are likely to ‘look after’ more unaccompanied children than has previously been the case. In recent years, central government have re-issued statutory guidance reiterating the duty to ‘look after’ unaccompanied children and the practice of supporting unaccompanied children as children ‘in need’ has been subject to legal challenge. Bearing this in mind, this chapter explores how foster placements can be used, and supported, to assist unaccompanied children. Relatively little research exists that explores the fostering of unaccompanied children, either from their own perspective or from that of the foster carers supporting them. Therefore, this chapter draws on: literature which documents the foster care experience of looked after children, in general; research which explores the general experiences of unaccompanied children arriving into the United Kingdom; research which has been conducted with unaccompanied children in emergency situations overseas and on social work practice with unaccompanied children in other industrialised nations. In doing so, the chapter explores a number of factors that may contribute to ensuring that foster placements are successful and do assist children and young people to find a sense of stability, security and belonging while in the United Kingdom.
Rachel Hek

Chapter 9. Leaving ‘Care’? Transition Planning and Support for Unaccompanied Young People

Most unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people come to the United Kingdom in their mid-teen years. In 2004, Home Office statistics suggested that 2990 unaccompanied children made applications for asylum. Of these, 62 per cent were made by young people aged 16 or 17, a further 28 per cent by young people aged 14 or 15 and only 10 per cent of applications were lodged by young people below the age of 14 (Heath and Jeffries, 2005). Given this age profile, preparation and planning for the transition to adulthood should be a central feature of social work practice with unaccompanied young people from the point they first come to the attention of social services. The timescales available for doing so are often relatively short, in many instances only one or two years.
Jo Dixon, Jim Wade

Chapter 10. Looking Back, Looking Forward

This chapter presents and reflects upon the stories of individuals, now adults, who have shared experiences of being unaccompanied children in the past. It draws on the accounts of two young women, Tizita and Naomi, who told me of their experiences, and their stories are linked to my own experiences and reflections on my life as an unaccompanied child. These three stories are woven into accounts already in the public domain, of adults who as children formed part of organised transportations from Spain (Bell, 1996) and Germany (Harris and Oppenheimer, 2000) during the 1930s. The former transportation involved the exodus of 4000 Basque children who fled the Spanish Civil War and the latter involved 10,000 children, known as the Kindertransport, who fled Nazi Germany prior to the outbreak of the Second World War.
Selam Kidane

Conclusion: Dwelling in Possibility

Many existing views of practice with unaccompanied children and young people can be limited and limiting. For example, we have noted elsewhere in relation to social work with unaccompanied minors that many research studies
remain flat and unenthusiastic about… practice, largely falling into a portrayal of professional ineptitude, having described failing organisational contexts. In their analysis, gaps trump successes, and the established furrow of telling social workers what they have not done, what they have done too little of, and what they ought to do, is firmly followed. (Kohli, 2007: 3)
Yet, in the course of our work as researchers, working separately on different studies, we encountered social workers and other practitioners who had adapted to what they often found to be an intellectually stimulating and an emotionally challenging environment in which to work. Their accounts of practice and policy were rich in detail and unlike the more familiar view within the literature they offered evidence of practitioners acting in humanitarian ways as they made links between ‘surface’ and ‘depth’ issues (Howe, 1996), and they said more about how young people begin to take charge of their circumstances over time and of how practitioners could work collaboratively or companionably with them to reconstruct their lives.
Ravi K. S. Kohli, Fiona Mitchell
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