Lacking basic necessities
Upon arrival into the UK, unaccompanied asylum seeking children often lack access to basic needs such as food, clothing and housing. This can have serious physical, emotional and social implications. A lack of appropriate nutrition can reduce the physical wellbeing of children and also have a negative impact upon mood and emotional wellbeing. Such effects can also hamper children’s ability to concentrate, which in turn can impact negatively on their ability to effectively engage with education or training. Further down the line, this could be detrimental to establishing and maintaining their economic independence.
A lack of suitable clothing can result in feelings of shame, which can have negative implications for their self-esteem. This can result in a reluctance to engage socially, or through stigma, can lead to being rejected by their peers. Such social isolation can lead to further deterioration of their emotional wellbeing, further cementing their lack of social engagement, and possibly even impacting upon their physical wellbeing (i.e. the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety). A reluctance to engage socially coupled with poor emotional wellbeing can also impact upon engagement with education and/or training and establishing economic independence.
A lack of safe housing not only has physical implications for young people – including exposure to environmental conditions such as cold and damp – but can also impact upon young people’s ability to attend and engage with education, training or employment. A lack of safe housing can also increase the likelihood of young people becoming the victims of crime, and/or of associating with antisocial peer groups. This can lead to engagement in antisocial behaviour and possibly entrance into the criminal justice system, which in turn can have a negative impact upon their legal status. Young people in unsuitable housing can also feel unsafe, and as a result, unwilling to trust positive adult caregivers. This can lead to an increased likelihood of absconding, which in turn can increase their chances of being exploited – a pervasive risk factor that can have serious and long term consequences for their physical and emotional wellbeing.
So how do Baca address these risks? The provision of food, clothing and a secure home
Baca provide food, clothing and housing for UASC coming into their care. New arrivals initially stay in a high support, semi-secure home, to reduce absconding and to provide an additional level of support to the children being hosted. Young people are provided with a basic set of clothes initially and then later taken to buy a full set of their choice. Culturally appropriate meals are provided, with further shopping trips to introduce them to new foods, whilst allowing them the autonomy to select foods that are familiar to them. UASC are supported over the following 2 to 4 month period to learn where to buy food and to cook for themselves. This instils both a sense of the importance of independent living, whilst providing them with the skills to do so. UASC remain in the high support home for around 4-6 months, until they are in college and are able to cook, clean and look after themselves and are starting to engage positively in a wider community. They then move on to a semi-independent home, where they continue to be supported until they are 18 and ready and legally able to move on to independent living.
Victims of trafficking
Unaccompanied asylum seeking children coming into the UK can be victims of trafficking. Such experiences can be highly traumatic for young people, and can impact upon their willingness to trust adults, develop meaningful relationships, and establish strong support networks. There can often be a general lack of hope for an alternative future. These factors, in addition to the trauma they have experienced, can result in anxiety, depression and poor overall emotional wellbeing. Due to their reluctance to trust unknown adults, these young people are more likely to feel unsafe and isolated, turning to running away as a way of coping with these feelings. This can put them at further risk of exploitation and harm, and of developing poor self-esteem, or even becoming caught up with the criminal justice system.
So how does Baca address these risks? The provision of emotional and therapeutic support
Young people are quickly integrated into an education programme (daily lessons), providing structure and developing understanding of new opportunities. Communication with the young person is future focused and instills an understanding of their rights and the opportunities they have for a different life. They are provided with one-to-one emotional support via their assigned support worker, who are trained in mental health awareness and in providing specialist support for the victims of trafficking. For more formal support, the young people are referred on to specialist counselling and mental health services. Due to the cultural and linguistic barriers to these young people accessing talking therapies, therapeutic support is also built into other Baca activities. Art sessions delivered by professionals trained in therapeutic support provide the context for life story work, enabling young people to explore their feelings and experiences.
Poor language & communication skills
Upon entering the UK, unaccompanied young people can lack the language or communication skills needed to understand their new environment, its culture, the people, and the law. It can also impact upon their ability to develop social networks and trusting relationships. This can result in feelings of isolation, and in turn, poor overall emotional wellbeing or even mental health problems such as depression. Poor understanding and communication can make gaining access to the services needed to address these problems very difficult. Difficulties in understanding their new environment can place young people in a vulnerable position, being more likely to inadvertently break laws they are unaware of, or make decisions that may be dangerous to their wellbeing (such as being in a notoriously dangerous area at night time). This can result in a lack of personal safety and/or becoming involved in offending behaviour.
So how does Baca address these risks? The provision of education and skills training
The young people are provided with English lessons immediately upon arrival. They attend two hours of lessons every weekday morning and these may be one-to-one or in a small group. The teaching course is specifically designed for newly arrived young people, supporting them both to learn the language as well as introducing them to UK culture. It also links closely with the support work to help ensure there is understanding of new concepts and processes they are going through. The course is highly flexible and differentiated, to work with young people who arrive with varying levels of education.
UASC are prepared and moved on to formal education when they are ready and strong partnerships with local colleges ensures this happens smoothly. Young people are provided with additional lessons once they start attending college to help with homework and in preparation for exams. When UASC reach a stage in their legal process where they are allowed to volunteer and do work experience, they are supported to find relevant and useful placements where they can further their skills. These provide the opportunity for practicing their English, developing support networks, and gaining vital experience that furthers their ability to obtain work and establish their economic independence.
Lack of understanding of people, places & laws
The young people possibly grew up in cultures significantly different to the UK, in addition many on route are told false stories about people in authority and how to act when here.
Enabling access to services
Because language development takes time, UASC are immediately registered with a doctor and dentist. Translators are used to explain what they will go through, such as the immunisations they will receive and any procedures they may require, reducing the likelihood of distress. Over the course of their stay, young people are shown how to make appointments themselves and what to do in different situations, increasing their confidence and ability in caring for themselves. The English course reinforces this work.
Upon their arrival into the UK, interpreters are also used to explain about the legal system and the process they will go through with their asylum case (and their trafficking case if applicable). They are also supported to access legal representation and ensure they attend their initial Home Office appointments. Baca accompany young people to all legal appointments with them throughout their cases so they are supported emotionally when having to share the stories of their past.
If they are given leave to remain, UASC are supported with income and housing support when they are ready to move on and are helped to understand what services and support is available to them.
Young people entering the UK unaccompanied, and without an established network, can lack a community base within which to develop relationships and thrive. This can impact upon not only their ability to develop positive peer networks and meaningful relationships, but can also hamper access to vital services, such as those relating to physical or mental health. This can have negative consequences for their physical and emotional wellbeing, in addition to hampering their ability to engage positively with education, training, or employment. In the long term, this can also impact negatively on their ability to establish economic independence and fulfill their potential within wider society.
So how does Baca address these risks? Nurturing and facilitating community and relationship-building
Baca’s approach is to build a family environment in which UASC can learn to develop and grow. Although not replacing their lost family, this serves to nurture a sense of belonging – strengthening their confidence and trust in adults – and providing them with the emotional stability needed to develop positive friendships and engage with their wider community. The houses are seen as homes and provide UASC with a place where they can relax and feel safe – decreasing the likelihood of them absconding from care. House meetings encourage young people to eat together and share, whilst also providing them with a forum to air any frustrations within the community and to teach them resolution skills.
Young people are connected with the different communities they need and if requested, linked with relevant places of worship. Baca also facilitate access to other community-based projects and clubs such as local arts, sports or youth clubs. This helps young people to connect to a variety of other young people both from their country of origin, but also from their local community more generally.
Provision of leisure activities, trips, and events
Weekly sports sessions are provided to help young people engage both with positive adults and peers and to learn skills such as teamwork and conflict resolution. It also provides them with something physical they can do to improve their physical and even mental wellbeing, with positive activities providing a distraction from some of the distressing issues being dealt with by UASC. Baca also link young people with local clubs such as football, cricket, boxing and athletics. This provides the young people with an opportunity to enjoy sport and connect more to the wider community. It also provides them with the opportunity to develop their English.
UASC are provided with regular trips to the countryside and seaside. As many UASC come from rural areas this helps them to feel at home in their new environment. Trips to the capital also help them to develop their sense of UK culture and history, whilst also providing them with the skills to live in a city environment. Again, it provides them with the opportunity to connect and develop relationships with their peers and connect to their new environment.
Regular celebration events are held where the young people are recognised and praised. Certificates are awarded for attendance and achievement in different workshops and English lessons. This helps to reinforce the importance of education whilst also increasing young people’s confidence and sense of self-efficacy. These events are used to celebrate their cultures and to encourage them to prepare and share dishes from their homeland. This helps them to celebrate who there, reconnect with their culture of origin and to experience the diversity of cultures within the UK.