Experiences of Unaccompanied Minors Seeking Asylum in the United Kingdom
Info: 12952 words (52 pages) Dissertation
Published: 10th Dec 2019
Tagged: ChildrenYoung PeopleImmigration
List of Acronyms
BASW – The British Association of Social Workers
CAMHS – Children and Adolescents Mental Health Services
CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
ECHR – European Court of Human Rights
ILR – Indefinite Leave to Remain
LA – Local Authority
LAC – Looked After Children
SCIE- Social Care Institute of Excellence
UASC – Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children
UKBA – United Kingdom Border Agency
UN – United Nations
UNCRC – United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
UNHCR – United Nations High Commission for Refugees
PTSD- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
HRA- Human Rights Act
The literature review aims to gather the experiences of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the UK. The review is a secondary research and data was gathered from different sources such as peer reviewed journals, books, grey materials from internet search, magazines and government publications. This is a narrative approach therefore qualitative than quantitative research methodology will be used in this review. It will first examine the reasons for migration such as war, persecution and political upheaval. It will then examine research on the assessment processes such as the asylum processes and the difficulty of going through the process, including age assessment and psychological assessment. Most unaccompanied minors have suffered psychological distress because of loss and trauma therefore there is a greater need for psychological assessment to ensure they receive the right support. The literature review will explore the intervention process such as foster placement and mental health intervention. Unaccompanied minors find themselves in unfamiliar environments without a responsible adult therefore accommodation arrangements will need to be put in place for them. The review will incorporate ways of integrating them into the society, including legislation and policy underpinning the unaccompanied minors in the UK. The final section of this literature review will explore the implications of social work practice on the experiences of unaccompanied minors. It will conclude by evaluating the overall experiences of unaccompanied minors and look out for any gaps in the legislation.
Table of Contents
|List of acronyms||3|
|Definition of Terms||6|
|Chapter 1- Background to the study||9|
|1.1 Research Question||14|
|Chapter 2 – Methodology||15|
|Chapter 3- Literature Review||18|
|3.1.1 Assessment Process||18|
|3.1.2 Asylum Process||19|
|3.1.3 Age Assessment||21|
|3.1.4 Psychological Assessment||22|
|3.2.1 Intervention Process||24|
|3.2.2Mental Health Intervention||26|
|3.3.1 Integration into the society||26|
|3.3.2 Support Networks||27|
|3.3.4 Legislation and Policy underpinning UASC||29|
|Chapter 4- Theoretical Perspectives||34|
|4.1 Ecological Perspective||34|
|Chapter 5- Current Statistics of UASC in the U.K.||35|
|Chapter 6- Discussion||35|
|Chapter 7- Implications for Social Work Practice and Policy||38|
|Chapter 8- Conclusion& Recommendations||40|
Definition of Terms
The term unaccompanied minors shall be used throughout this dissertation. Kohli (2007) recognised that, the definition of unaccompanied minor is often unclear as described within the international conventions.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR, 1994) stated that unaccompanied minors are those children who are separated from their parents and do not have an adult relative or any guardian responsible for them. McVeigh (2016) defined an unaccompanied minor as a child who is under the age of 18 years old who leaves his/ her own country with no relative or guardian.
The Children Act (1989) defined a child as any individual who is below the age of 18 years old. The United Nations High Commission of Refugees (UNHCR) (1951) supported that, a child is simply any person below the age of 18 years old.
The Refugee Law and Policy (2016) defined asylum as a term that is used to refer to the protection offered to individuals who are fleeing persecution in their country of origin. As a general rule, individuals/ asylum seekers may apply for protection only after entering the country in which they are seeking asylum. The Refugee Law and Policy (2016) went on to state that, asylum seekers who satisfy the application criteria will then receive a refugee status. Applicants who do not meet the application criteria and have not been granted refugee status may still be granted leave to remain in the UK on humanitarian or other reasons (Refugee Law and Policy, 2016). This can only be fulfilled if the Home Office establishes that there is a genuine risk if they are returned to their own countries. The Refugee law and policy (2016) stated that, the UK provides a restriction on refugee settlement programs and only selected refugees are given an access to come and settle in the UK without going through the asylum process, for instance, a program for vulnerable Syrian refugees. The same statement was supported by Ridley (2015) who stated that Britain welcomed 20, 000 Syrian refugees and resettled them under the new programme introduced by David Cameron called the Vulnerable Persons Integration (VPR) scheme.
The UN High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR (1951) defined a refugee as an individual who flees persecution in his/her country. It went on to state that, refugees should be protected by the international laws and must not be returned to their own countries if their lives are considered to be at greater risk of persecution.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR, 1951) noted that the terms ‘migrants’ and ‘refugees’ are often confused and to avoid such confusion they should be clearly defined and understood. The UNHCR (1951) clearly states that, unlike a refugee who moves mainly because of a direct threat of persecution or death, a migrant is an individual who chooses to move primarily to improve his life, for instance, employment opportunities, education, family reunion or other factors.
The oxford Dictionary (2017) defined the term ‘emigrate’ as when an individual leaves his/ her country of permanent residence and settles permanently in another country.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Mind (2013) and Royal College of Psychiatrists (2017) defined PTSD as any mental health problems resulting from a traumatic experience. For instance, when someone witnesses or was involved in a distressing incident, he/ she may experience distress, anger, confusion or upset afterwards. However, with PTSD, the feelings of distress may not present themselves straightaway, but as time goes on, they may develop into emotional distress and physical problems, such as insomnia and feeling easily upset (Mind, 2013).
Chapter 1- Background to the study
Social work practice with unaccompanied minors presents social workers with a new challenge (Simmonds, 2007). Therefore, this dissertation will look at how the experiences of unaccompanied minors could be improved in the UK through interventions, assessments and integration. In recent years, there has been an influx of unaccompanied minors coming into the UK to seek asylum with numbers reaching up to 3500 asylum applications in 2001 compared to 2700 in 2000 (Thomas, 2003). Gentleman (2013) affirmed an increase in the number of children embarking on a journey to start a new life in the United Kingdom.
Many migrants seeking asylum are of various ages and backgrounds and unaccompanied minors who arrive in the UK comes with very high social care needs. Britain has seen an increase of unaccompanied minors by the arrival of Syrian refugees since the start of their conflict in Syria (McClenaghan and Wright, 2015). Devlin (2016) quoted the home office figures stating that, there were about 2, 654 unaccompanied minors who sought asylum in the UK, which is an increase of 50% compared to year 2015. Under the Children Act (1989),it is the Local Authority’s responsibilities to ensure that these unaccompanied minors are cared for within their local area (Devlin, 2016). For some Local Authorities such as Kent, this has been a huge challenge as they had to accommodate about 932 minors, the largest number among all other Local Authorities in the UK (Devlin, 2016).
Reintegration into the society is one of the UN High Commission for Refugees’ (UNHCR) responsibilities for supporting these unaccompanied minors into rebuild their lives (UNHCR, 2016). However, when seeking to support the minors to rebuild their lives, there is a need to understand their lived experiences, individual concerns and their rights (Malmsten, 2014). Lawrence et al (2015) stated that, the only way to gain such an understanding depends on the availability of research and how it is conducted. Research should be based on allowing the unaccompanied minors to express freely their lived experiences, concerns, needs and hopes and treating them with respect and dignity (Lawrence et al, 2015). In contrast, there is hesitation from unaccompanied minors to disclose too much information about their experiences, especially to authorities (Kohli, 2006; Chase, 2013; Raghallaigh, 2013)
The position of unaccompanied minors separated from their families, country, culture and religion is not the same as the challenges facing professionals working with UK children. In addition, there is the issue of traumatic experiences of many unaccompanied minors who have faced war, conflict or persecution (Simmonds, 2007). Lastly, there is the unresolved issue of their identity as asylum seekers. Therefore, to consider these issues about this service user group, the dissertation shall look at the assessment process, social work intervention and integration into the society.
Mitchell (2007) established the three common aspects in the lives of unaccompanied minors: they are separated from their parents or care giver, they find themselves in a foreign country and they are subject to immigration control. It is for these reasons that these unaccompanied minors become the Local Authority’s responsibility. Therefore there is a need for assessments to be undertaken, because a range of needs is likely to arise. Mitchell (2007) recognised a research study which indicated that many Local Authorities did not offer 16 and 17 years old unaccompanied minors’ full needs assessment. Mitchell (2007) went on to state that about three quarters of 54 local authorities were not assessing unaccompanied minors’ needs as recently introduced by the National Statutory Guidance on Assessment. The two authors concluded that the assessments either were ineffective or may not have taken place or fully implemented to meet the unaccompanied minors’ needs.
Townsend (2016) noted the new emerging developments in connection with the disappearance of unaccompanied minors when they reach the UK. The authorities are suspicious that the unaccompanied minors were being the targets of traffickers or simply they feared deportations. In most cases, unaccompanied minors arrive with no documentation to prove their age, authorities usually question their ages or are disbelieved and incorrectly classed as adults (Simmonds and Merredow, 2010). Therefore, the issue of age assessments remains a controversial issue and the Local Authorities regard it as immoral and unprincipled (Right to Remain, 2015; BASW, 2016). Similarly, Sharman (2016) quoted Eva Singer, Head of Asylum at the Danish Refugee Council stating, “There are many of these young people who don’t know precisely how old they are because it is not something that is registered in their home countries in the same way as it is in Denmark.”Therefore, it is possible to make a wrong prediction of someone’s age based on an age assessment criteria. However, Sharman (2016) recognised that, asylum seekers who were age tested were found to be older than they claimed to be.
The dissertation will also consider the experiences of unaccompanied minors in the foster placements as part of integration in the UK. Raghallaigh and Sirriyeh (2015) noted that the experiences of unaccompanied minors in foster placements differ because some were placed in cross cultural placements and some with foster carers from the same country of origin or with the same religious background. Hek (2007) stated that there are a number of ways in which foster placements can be used to support unaccompanied minors. It is also important to note that, their experiences in foster placements may be negative if they feel isolated, or uncared for, if they are treated differently and excluded from their carer’s social circle. Therefore, it is the Local Authority’s responsibilities to educate the foster carer by providing information and training on how to respond to the needs of unaccompanied minors in their care, thereby reducing such negativities (Hek, 2007).
Kohli (2007) highlighted that, the UK has been integrating unaccompanied minors into the society from the 20th century who were escaping poverty and persecutions from authorities or family members. This service user group will then embark on a journey alone to a foreign land, with a foreign culture, foreign language and everything they know. For that reason, the Children Act (1989) and the Children (Leaving Care) (2000) demands the Local Authority to protect the welfare of such children. Under this legislation, the protection and welfare of unaccompanied minors is essential and the Local Authority should enable this as they have a legal duty to every child despite their immigration status. According to the Save the Children (2017), each child’s experience is different during and when unaccompanied minors arrive in the United Kingdom to resettle.
The review shall incorporate a theoretical perspective on the experiences of unaccompanied minors. A theory is defined as a way of making sense of a particular situation and it helps the social workers to identify any patterns in certain situations (Howe, 2009). This dissertation will explore the ecological perspective to explore unaccompanied minors’ experiences and reasons for migration.
Finally, the research of unaccompanied minors and refugees itself is a challenging area of social work practice which is open to criticism (Travis, 2017). This is because it puts unexpected financial pressure on Local Authorities and Taxpayers and the government will struggle to meet the unaccompanied minors’ actual costs (Tickle, 2016).Most of the time, refugees, including unaccompanied minors are stigmatised and receive bad publicity as they are perceived as scroungers who takes advantage of UK’s benefits system (Kirklees Council, 2007). However, this is not true as most of them flee their countries not deliberately, but escaping persecution and in search of refuge and help. Another primary reason for studying this topic is the researcher’s experience of working with unaccompanied minors whilst on placement. The researcher had an opportunity of working with one of the most vulnerable children and learning about their experiences in hostel accommodation under Local Authority.
There is evidence suggesting that this service user group is not receiving the appropriate support or benefits entitled to them. Gentleman (2013), recognised them as the most vulnerable children in the Britain, but despite that Britain was still not able to fully look after them properly. The dissertation will conclude by analysing the dissertation findings and discussion as well as recommendations for future practice.
1.1 – Research Question
“What are the experiences of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the United Kingdom”?
- – Objectives
- To understand the assessment process of unaccompanied asylum seeking children in the U.K.
- To explore the intervention processes social workers put in place for this service user’s group.
- To understand their integration, reintegration and assimilation in the society.
Chapter 2- Methodology
This is a narrative literature review which has been undertaken to investigate the experiences of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the UK. The main reason for undertaking a literature review is to gather knowledge on what is already known in relation to the research topic (Bryman, 2012). It also helps the researcher learn from other researchers and look out for any gaps in their research (Bryman, 2012). The results and findings were carefully selected from reliable databases and published sources and were then summarised. This literature review was carried out using electronic academic databases such as the Sage Hub, Psycho Info and Community Care Inform Children and some reliable social care websites such as Social Care Institute of Excellence (SCIE), National health Services (NHS), Home Office and Community Care website. Peer review journal articles were used as they are reliable sources which have been fully critiqued before being published. The key policy websites were also used such as the Department of Health, Department of Education and the general internet search such as Google Search for grey materials, Google Scholar, library journals and e-books. Literature was also sourced from the University Library and from a researcher in the field who provided a copy of his textbook (Working with Unaccompanied asylum seeking children: Issues for policy and practice). A wide range of materials were sourced out to balance and used to critically analyse data.
Literature reviews are comprehensive studies of ‘ideas, issues, approaches and research findings’ on the topic under research (Kitely and Stogdon, 2014, p.5.).
|Inclusion Criteria||Exclusion Criteria|
|Time limits- literature less than 10 years old||11 years and over|
|Predominantly UK and European Literature only||Middle East, America, Asia and Africa|
|Age limit minors- 17 years old and below||18 years and above|
|Unaccompanied minors under Local Authority already in foster placements||Missing or accompanied minors|
|Research design- Narrative approach as it gathers stories about a particular subject.||Phenomenology|
The following example was used as the search criteria for key terms, using Commas, AND, OR and Brackets. For example, “unaccompanied minors AND separated children experiences in the UK”; “child refugees OR unaccompanied children”; (the lived experiences of unaccompanied asylum seeking children in the UK). The key word used within the literature review is; unaccompanied minors, however other terms such as ‘unaccompanied children’, ’separated children’, ‘asylum seekers’, refugee’, migrant’, experiences’, and ‘challenges’ were combined in order to broaden the search criteria.
Literature from the UK and Europe were used in this dissertation and they were all in English. The reason for using literature from other European countries was to compare the experiences of unaccompanied minors in other parts of Europe and how they were being supported. Some of the grey literature was gathered from unreliable internet source; however any information can put information on the internet which makes it an unreliable source of evidence. Journals articles used were generally Sage journals and refugee and migration books for unaccompanied minors. Most of the literature used in this dissertation are 10 years old and below because this is a hot topic with current issues still being debated in Parliament. However, sources over 10 years old were used in order to understand the context of the experiences of unaccompanied minors and underpinning legislation.
Berge (2009) defined methodology as a research strategy which identifies how research is to be undertaken, and this can be through qualitative or quantitative research. Qualitative methodology has been adopted in this research because the topic seeks to explore the experiences, events and behaviours of unaccompanied minors (Ahsan, 2017). Bryman (2012) established that qualitative research aims to capture the subjective meaning of the stories or narratives from unaccompanied minors’ perspective, for example, what it means for the minors to experience forced migration. The experiences of each minor are child- specific depending on their background, resilience, age, experiences and reasons for migration (Raghallaigh and Gilligan, 2010).
This is a secondary research dissertation, however when conducting primary research, a narrative approach would be appropriate using interviews. According to Aveyard (2010) children will freely tell their experiences and will choose which information they want to share for confidential reasons. Interviews would be conducted using semi structured and open ended questions (Jamshed, 2014). Qualitative research methodology is regarded the most suitable when investigating the latest or prominent issues, such as the experiences of unaccompanied minors (Jamshed, 2014). The most common types of qualitative research methods that can be used are interviews or observations (Gill et al, 2008).
The researcher would need to consider the ethical issues as both qualitative and quantitative methodologies should respect ethical issues when researching the experiences of unaccompanied minors (Holloway and Wheeler, 2010). The unaccompanied minors would have to be treated with respect by maintaining their dignity regardless of age or background. The researcher would need to consider the informed consent and confidentiality even though it might be restricted when the minors are at risk of harm (Butler, 2002). Somekh and Lewin (2005) and Silverman (2010) defined confidentiality as a concept of allowing individuals to freely express themselves in confidence and having the rights to deny any publication of material considered as harmful to them (Shaw, 2008).
To protect unaccompanied minors during interviews, the researcher may give a brief explanation of the objectives of the study (Silverman, 2010; Flick, 2013). The researcher would need to make the unaccompanied minors’ safety a priority during participation (Silverman, 2010). Data gathered would be stored in a secure locked storage away from unauthorised persons (Shaw, 2008). Discrimination as one of the core value of social work would need to be challenged during participation, and it can be on the basis of age, gender, race and social background (BASW, 2017).
Chapter 3- Literature Review: What are the experiences of unaccompanied asylum seeking children in the U.K.
Mitchell (2007) noted three elements that are common in the lives of unaccompanied minors, that is, they are separated from their care giver, alienated from their countries of origin and are under immigration controls. Therefore a range of personal needs are most likely to emerge from these exceptional circumstances. It is for these reasons that unaccompanied minors become the responsibilities of Local Authorities. The Local Authority will then carry out an ongoing assessment of need process to understand the unaccompanied minors’ vulnerabilities, risks and protective factors resulting from their experiences (Mitchell, 2007; Children Legal Centre, 2017). Mitchell (2007) identified what is involved in the assessment process and this includes identifying, gathering, analysing and understanding information presented. At every stage of the process, the social worker is expected to use the analytical and communication skills to determine their capabilities of making sense of the information gathered (Mitchell, 2007). The same statement was supported by Coulshed and Orme (2006) who affirmed that these skills are regarded as ‘core skills’ of communication, such as observation, listening, reflection and evaluation. These skills are integral to the assessment of unaccompanied minors. They stated that listening, being non judgemental and having a sense of humour is regarded as good practice in assessing unaccompanied minors and young people. These are key practices which affects how unaccompanied minors respond in the assessment process (Mitchell, 2007).
Mitchell (2007) undertook an assessment practice study in three local authorities over 18 months. She found that there were inconsistencies in terms of assessing the needs of unaccompanied minors and young people. The following were some of the inconsistencies noted;
- Assessors had a limited understanding of the Children act 1989 and its requirements.
- Refugees were either not fully funded or there was lack of funding to refugees in general.
- Hostility towards refugees exhibited by the public.
- Social workers’ lack of good assessment skills.
Coulshed and Orme (2006) and Mitchell (2007) supported each other that; it took certain skills, knowledge of social work values and good practical knowledge to carry out robust and holistic assessments. Access to training, reflection, education and supervision will indeed improve the assessment of need for all service user groups and that includes unaccompanied minors (Coulshed and Orme, 2006). Mitchell (2007) identified that during the assessment process with unaccompanied minors, barriers to communication existed because of restricted availability of skilled interpreters. The SCIE (2015) suggested that, to ensure effective communication practitioners needs to build good working relationships with interpreting agency. Interpreters should understand the situation of unaccompanied minors by debriefing them in order to clarify any issues and develop better understanding of the unaccompanied minors’ needs (SCIE, 2015). It is important to note that, interpreters may have training needs in terms of understanding specific challenges experienced by unaccompanied minor that may implicate their communication, for example, trauma, loss, persecution, or psychological issues (Raval, 2006).
3.1.2 Asylum process
Recent studies clearly suggest that asylum process can have a significant impact on unaccompanied minors’ coping strategies due to uncertainties surrounding the final outcome from the Home office (Wade, 2011; Faze et al, 2012). The majority of unaccompanied minors may feel anxious and not in control of their lives and they may worry that their claim would be rejected and consequently face deportations (Wade, 2011). Bell (2005) recognised the psychological issues in unaccompanied minors seeking asylum as a challenge because of uncertainties surrounding their immigration process and not being in control of their lives. Endersby (2006) undertook a qualitative study emphasising on unresolved immigration processes in unaccompanied minors influencing their daily lives and future aspirations. Despite these uncertainties unaccompanied minors would usually demonstrate significant resilience in the face of challenges (Kovacev and Shute, 2004).
If an unaccompanied minor is applying for asylum under the care of the Local Authority, screening and social work assessment is usually completed and arrangements are then made to accommodate the child under section 20 of the Children Act 1989. The Local Authority will then take on the parental responsibility of the unaccompanied minor (Crawley, 2004). Tasks are usually delegated to a responsible adult working daily with the unaccompanied minor, such as a foster carer or keyworker, ensuring the unaccompanied minor has access to legal advice and exercise their rights (Home Office, 2016; The Young Lives Foundation, 2017). The solicitor will then meet with the unaccompanied minor to take a statement, outlining the grounds on which they are claiming asylum and then present the case to the local immigration office. The unaccompanied minor, solicitor, interpreter, main carer, home office official and their interpreter usually attends this meeting. The meeting will result in whether the child will be granted stay, if not they have a limited time to appeal the Home office decision (Home Office, 2016).
The following is the possible outcome from the meeting;
- Granted asylum- the unaccompanied minor can stay up to 5 years and the stay can then be reviewed.
- Humanitarian protection- the unaccompanied minor can stay for 5 years and it is not usually reviewed in unaccompanied minors.
- Discretionary leave to remain- the home office will have assessed that the unaccompanied minor will be at risk of persecution if returned home, therefore they can either stay for 3 years or until they are 17 and half years old.
- Asylum claim refused- face deportation or to be sent back to their countries of origin.
(Department of Education, 2016)
3.1.3 Age assessment
Social workers often find themselves faced with a new challenge when working with unaccompanied minors (Simmonds, 2007). The challenges faced by social workers working with unaccompanied minors do not replicate the issues faced by unaccompanied minors (Simmonds, 20007). The social workers take on a huge responsibility of working with unaccompanied minors and normally whose ages are disputed. Kohli (2007) noted that unaccompanied minors’ stories were very complicated and usually disbelieved by authorities. The unaccompanied minors’ stories are usually not listened to or distorted by authorities because they are regarded as the same stories usually narrated by others about their reasons for migration (Simmonds, 2007). Therefore, authorities find it as a challenge to believe the validity of their narratives. Ages are usually disputed and often they are not told truthfully (Simmonds, 2007). Kohli (2007) highlighted some of the reasons why unaccompanied minors are reluctant to tell their stories and the social workers should be ready to deal with these complex ‘silence’. Chase (2010) and Ishola (2012) explored this ‘silence’ as a coping mechanism and a natural reaction when unaccompanied minors found themselves in unfamiliar situations and environments. Ishola (2012) suggested that practitioners should be able to identify the child’s additional needs and not just being competent in assessing them. Practitioners should identify any mental or physical issues that may have emerged on their journey to the UK.
Those whose ages are disputed by the UK authorities were normally not given the benefit of a doubt and normally they are treated as an adult. Therefore, they lose their credibility to their asylum claim (Giner, 2007; Kvittingen, 2010). As recognised by Cemlyn and Nye (2012) age assessment is extremely controversial and often inaccurate. Few years ago, the immigration authorities relied solely on medical evidence, but medical professionals concluded that determining the age of unaccompanied minors through x-rays was unreliable and should not be relied upon especially for older teenagers (Cemlyn and Nye, 2012). Nonetheless, dental analysis is still offered alongside the Merton age assessment (Cemlyn and Nye, 2012).Crawley (2007) and Watters (2008) highlighted the importance of realising that, in some cultures and ethnicities age is not celebrated, registered or even known. Therefore most children coming from such background, especially war torn countries, may not even know their true date of births (Watters, 2008).
3.1.4 Psychological assessment
Some experiences of traumatic events, including war, violence, persecution, neglect and abuse can potentially contribute to psychological, emotional and behavioural changes that can potentially affect learning and performance (Arnot and Candappa, 2010; Wilson et al, 2011). Beers and De Bellis (2002) established that there is a relationship between childhood traumatic events and damaged memory and disturbed abstract thinking. The same conditions were also found to be linked with neglected children who showed poor learning skills than children who were not neglected (De Bellis et al, 2009). However, there is no research supporting these relationships with unaccompanied minors, but they would be expected to apply to any child. Saigh et al (2006) and Yasik et al (2007) and Sanchez- Cao (2012) suggested that the relationship between traumatic events and poor psychological functioning is particularly associated with unaccompanied minors with Post Traumatic stress Disorder symptoms. This same statement was supported by Ehntholt et al (2005) who affirmed that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was usually associated with traumatised children and unaccompanied minors. DeHaene (2007) further explored that depression and anxiety disorders were usually found particularly in refugee children including unaccompanied. Bronstein and Montgomery (2011) noted that the prevalence of anxiety levels in unaccompanied minors ranged from 33% to 50%, depression from 3% to 30% and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from 19% to 54%, whereas in the general population the number were found to be 2% to 9%. Henley and Robinson (2011) established that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can persist for up to 12 years or into adulthood after integration, hence the need for thorough psychological assessment.
The British Psychological Society (2017) recognised the importance of multidisciplinary working to holistically support unaccompanied minors. It further stated that, assessment of unaccompanied minors’ overall wellbeing, including psychological assessment of vulnerability and the impact of minors’ experiences should not be ignored. Such assessment should be balanced according to gender and culture; professional interpreters should be used if minors do not speak English. The British Psychological Society (2017) stated that, psychological assessment should incorporate the minors’ socioeconomic background and other factors such as their experiences on the journey, which may impact their overall wellbeing. Psychological assessments can contribute to a swift response from professionals across disciplines to ensure that the minors access healthcare and support from Local authorities and receive adequate support in their education (British Psychological Society (2017).
Undertaking a psychological evaluation on unaccompanied minors seems to go against the principles of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the values of social work, for example, Anti-Discriminatory Practice and Anti-Oppressive Practice. Parrott (2014) defined anti discriminatory practice as a practice which helps to reduce or which challenges discrimination and oppression because of gender, race, age or disability. The Human Rights Act (1998) demands that everyone should be treated the same with fairness, dignity and respect. The Article (30 of the Act prohibits torture, degrading or inhumane treatment regardless of background. It further states that this is an absolute right, in that, torturing someone can never be justified (HRA, 1998). Any treatment that causes intense physical or psychological suffering on a person is regarded as inhumane treatment and any treatment which humiliates or devalues an individual beyond what is expected is regarded as degrading treatment (HRA, 1998).
The Community Care (2012) noted that, most unaccompanied minors from Afghanistan showed symptoms associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, however this could be managed by on- going support and ensuring unaccompanied minors have a stable accommodation. This issue of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was also highlighted by Heaphy (2007) who recognised that unaccompanied minors were most likely to experience psychological problems, particularly PTSD. He concluded by stating that unaccompanied minors were at risk of experiencing mental health problems than minors accompanied by their families.
3.2.1 Intervention Process- Foster placements
It is important to understand the legal meaning of ‘private foster care’ according to section 66 of the Children Act (1989). It is defined as, ‘an arrangement that is made privately, without the involvement of the Local Authority, for the care of a child under the age of 16 (under 18 if disabled), by someone other than a parent or close relative and as an arrangement that endures beyond 28 days” (Children Act, 1989). If a child is in the care of anyone who is not a full blood or half- blood relative and it extends beyond 28 days then it is regarded as a private foster care by legal definition (Nandy et al, 2011). Although these arrangements are made without Local Authority involvements, foster carers have a duty to notify the Local Authority of such arrangements and they will undertake a needs assessment to monitor the situation (Shaw et al, 2010). Contrary, public foster care is when a child is assessed first then placed with a foster carer by Local Authority, either through a care order or parental agreement (Connolly, 2014).
A number of unaccompanied minors were found to be living in private foster placements arrangements in the UK, including trafficked children and those sent by parents to live with family or friends as part of adaptation and survival (Crawley, 2006; Ince, 2009; Roby, 2011; Shaw et al, 2010). Since this is a private arrangement, accessing these minors can be quite ma challenge as notifying the Local Authority is not mandatory and there exist a general fear of social workers intruding in their private lives (Connolly, 2014). Brownlees and Finch (2010) recognised that Local Authorities are reluctant to place more minors in private foster care placement as it could have detrimental implications on their budgets. Statistics shows that there was only 1, 780 minors in private foster placements in March 2012 (DfE, 2012). However, the official figures were indicated in the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), showing numbers between 15,000- 20,000 (Philpot, 2010).
Connolly (2014) addressed the challenges faced by children and families social workers when assessing private foster placements for unaccompanied minors. These include the absence of documentation and addressing the minors’ relationship with the future foster carer. There are various risks and challenges faced by unaccompanied minors according to Connolly (2014). These ranges from low self- esteem, abandonment, poor housing and overcrowding, social isolation, physical and emotional neglect (Brownlees and Finch, 2010; Kearney, 2007).
3.2.2 Mental Health intervention
Conflict in many parts of the world had led to an increase in unaccompanied minors (Majumder, 2014). An increase in the number of unaccompanied minors experiencing psychological distress has meant the development of services for them (Majumder, 2014). The services in place should be appropriate and tailor made to meet their specific requirements. In child mental health, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or ‘talking therapy’ remains the predominant method of psychological treatment, alongside the use of medication though not fully evaluated to be effective (Lusting et al, 2004). Most unaccompanied minors reported that they found engaging with the ‘talking therapy’ more difficult and opt to medication treatment as this might be due to communication barrier (Lusting et al, 2004).
While talking therapy is a well-established framework which is a widely used system, it is not globally used (Lusting et al, 2004). Talking therapy can also be a challenge on unaccompanied minors due to language limitation, even when using interpreters. Therefore, psychiatrist will defer the treatment until the unaccompanied minors’ language and communication has improved, and this should be weighed against the risks (Huemer and Vostanis, 2010). Majumder et al (2014) in their study noted the importance of clarity in terms of the treatment being received by the unaccompanied minors as some participants lacked clarity in terms of their treatment. This raises a concern around informed consent as unaccompanied minors should be able to understand their treatment even if it means using an interpreter (Majumder, 2014).
3.3.1 Integration into the society – Stability
Derluyn and Broekaert (2007) noted that, unaccompanied minors trying to fit in and find a role within a new society can be a huge challenge for them, especially when they are not familiar with the language, cultures, behaviours and the role of Local Authority.
Berrie and Mendez (2011) emphasised on the importance of stability after migration, as a fundamental requirement for unaccompanied minors. They went on to state the importance of ensuring unaccompanied minors are placed in supportive accommodation to minimise stress levels and mental challenges. Stein (2005) noted that stability helps unaccompanied minors to develop coping strategies, it provides unaccompanied minors with emotional warmth towards the care giver (Bhugra& Becker, 2005) and it also provides continuity in the unaccompanied minors’ lives (Jackson & Thomas, 2001).
Stability is the first step in the lives of unaccompanied minors especially if they are in stable placements which support them to succeed in their education, make transition from care to adulthood and be in employment (Stein, 2005). Continuity will be part of their lives within their education, friendships and society (Marsh & Peel, 1999). As noted by Eide (2000) in his study on unaccompanied minors in Norway, he stated that building and maintaining social relationships is crucial to the development of unaccompanied minors, particularly with people around them.
3.3.2 Support networks
Boswell (2001) described support networks as central in resettling unaccompanied minors and refugees as it provides them with practical ad emotional support. Kidan (2001) and Stanley (2001) stated that building strong networks is essential as it promotes a sense of belonging and identity, builds self- esteem and confidence in unaccompanied minors and takes away feelings of isolation. Beirens (2007) established that a lot of unaccompanied minors felt isolated from other members of their society because they had limited opportunities of meeting with other children with similar cultures and backgrounds. Nonetheless, unaccompanied minors continue to face negative perceptions which impacts on their social networks due to being dispersed in disadvantaged areas (Duvell, 2005).
The Home Office (2005) published a document titled, “Integration Matters: A National Strategy for Refugee Integration” which explore the meaning of integration. It focused on helping refugees by empowering them to successfully reach their desired objective of becoming a member of the British society. The document highlights the “Indicators of Integration Framework” which was developed by Ager &Strang (2004).
The following table 1 shows the ten key domains central to the integration of refugees (Ager &Strang, 2004).
|The ‘means and markers’ of integration||Employment
|‘Social Connectedness’||Social bridges- cross cultural networks
Social bonds- the importance of accessing connections within one’s own community
Social links- engagement with services and institutions
|‘Facilitators’ for integration||Language and cultural understanding
Safety and stability
|‘Foundation’ for integration||Rights and citizenship|
Table 1- The Indicators of Integration Framework for Refugees
Source: Ager and Strang, 2004, p2.
Raghallaigh and Gillian (2010) noted that one of the coping strategies is adaption which is simply to adjust by changing and learning. Unaccompanied minors after migration, desire to adapt to new environment, learning about the practical and cultural norms of that particular country so as to fit in (Raghallaigh and Gillian, 2010). This means that they will have to change existing behaviours and learn new ones, for example, changing how they dress, religious practices, learning to speak a new language and engaging in specific youth activities to suit the British culture (Raghallaigh and Gillian, 2010).
These adaptations will play a big part to fulfil unaccompanied minors’ social needs, thereby facilitating social networks, reduce bullying and increasing self of belonging (Raghallaigh and Gillian, 2010). However, Maegusuku-Hewett et al (2007) established that whilst some unaccompanied minors sought to actively adapt to new behaviours and culture as a way of coping, others appeared to move away and resisted to adapt to the new culture, so as to maintain their own cultures.
3.3.4 Legislation and Policy underpinning UASC
In the UK, legislation and social policy concerning asylum and refugees including unaccompanied minors has been a priority for many years. The UK gave attention to the refugees including unaccompanied minors as demanded by the 1951 UN convention (UNCHR, 1951). Its aim was to provide refuge to people who were at risk of persecution in their countries of origin.
The Immigration Act (2016)’s main aim was to minimise pressures from Local Authorities and making sure that the migrants including unaccompanied minors receives the support entitled to them whilst waiting for the Home Office decision. The Act has managed to achieve the removal of failed asylum seekers but withdrew support for unaccompanied minors who turned 18 years old. According to the Children Act (1989), the Local Authority under section 17 promised to provide support to meet the needs of a child including unaccompanied minors, in order to promote the welfare of the child. However, once the unaccompanied minors turns 18 all the support is removed and they will face either deportation or a legal battle.
Elvin (2016) stated that, as the unaccompanied minors approach their 18th birthday, they are required to apply for extended leave to remain in the UK and usually the majority are turned down. However, the Home office does not automatically remove the unaccompanied minors from the UK as many of them will go missing and the Home Office will have no idea of their whereabouts and numbers (Elvin, 2016). The reason for this is that, the UK’s removals system is inefficient and under resourced.
Before the introduction of the Asylum and Immigration Act in 1999, asylum seekers including unaccompanied minors were entitled to the same benefits as the rest of the population in the UK. A good example was, if an asylum seeker had nowhere to stay, he/she could just seek support from a homeless persons unit. When the Conservative government won the election, they introduced the Asylum and Immigration Act 1999 cutting off asylum seekers from mainstream social welfare services leaving them with no access to benefits. However, this was against the National Assistance Act (1948) which requires Local Authorities to provide welfare support to refugees and asylum seekers. The Immigration and Asylum Act (1999) which was a newly formulated policy for refugees and asylum seekers gave the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) the responsibility of providing needs and services to asylum seekers. NASS (2000) was introduced to minimise pressures on the Local Authority and providing support and accommodation for those asylum seekers who were still waiting for their claim to be considered. It is important to note that, after screening the unaccompanied minor is then handed over to Local Authority for protection and safeguarding and not the NASS (Bokhari, 2012).
The Immigration Bill (2015-16) was introduced as the statutory mechanism of reducing pressure on Local Authorities by equitably resettling unaccompanied minors who had recently arrived from Syria. The Bill also included powers and responsibilities that would enable the transfer for unaccompanied minors between Local Authorities as set out in the clauses 71-75. These powers also applied to unaccompanied minors who had been granted immigration status. This was to ensure that unaccompanied minors brought into the country under a new integration programme could also be transferred (Immigration Bill, 2015-16). The Conservative Government confirmed that it was considering establishing such a scheme in January 2016.
Under the Children Act (1989), the provision of services to children in need for the purpose of safeguarding is required from the Local Authority. The Local Authority will carry out an assessment of needs for each unaccompanied minor to determine which services to provide and what action to take. Children Act (1989) under section 17 assesses children including unaccompanied minors’ relating to their educational needs, disabilities or if they have committed a crime. These assessments are usually carried out by the social worker. The death of Victoria Climbie in 2000 brought forward plans for the government to safeguard and promote the welfare of children by encouraging collaborative working between agencies. In 2015, the government amended the Working Together document, first introduced in 1991. The document outlined guidance to practitioners to fulfil its aims of collaborative working (DfES, 2015). The Working Together to Safeguard Children (2015) highlighted that, when assessing children in need including unaccompanied minors, assessors should take into consideration specialist assessments, assessors should work together with the minor and come up with a single plan of action.
According to The Children Leaving Care Act (2000), it amends the Children Act (1989) replacing the service provisions on after care of looked after children, including unaccompanied minors by Local Authorities. The Children Leaving Care Act (2000) creates new duties and responsibilities in relation to planning for unaccompanied minors and looked after children whose status will be ending as they turn 18 years of age.
The United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (1989) has 54 articles which take into consideration all aspects of a child’s life including unaccompanied minors and this includes the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all children around the world are entitled to. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) explains how adults and governments must collaborate in making sure that all children can enjoy all their rights. It went on to state that, all children has rights, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, gender, language, abilities or immigration status (Hek, 2005). Until 2008, the UK had some reservations to article 22 of the convention, stating that unaccompanied minors should be treated differently to UK children (Bokhari, 2012). However, this has since changed as all Local Authorities are expected to treat every child equally regardless of immigration status or ethnicity.
The office of United Nations High Commission of Refugees (UNHCR) (1951) was founded in 1950 after the Second World War and it was to help millions of Europeans who had lost or fled their homes. The UNHCR (1951) is still supporting and providing services to refugees including unaccompanied minors around the world.
The Care of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children and Trafficked Children (2014) guidance states that, the unaccompanied minors and child victims of human trafficking are regarded as one of the most vulnerable in the UK. The unaccompanied minors find themselves alone, in a foreign land surrounded by people who do not speak their first language. Trafficked children are potentially at risk of returning to their smugglers, or at further risk of sexual exploitation or criminal activities. The Care of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children and Trafficked Children (2014) guidance further states that, minors may have experienced emotional traumas in their countries of origin, on their journey, or through their treatment by the adults in the UK. They are certainly unaware of who to trust and of their rights. Therefore, this guidance outlines the steps that Local Authorities should take to ensure careful planning for the provision of support for unaccompanied minors and trafficked children is implemented. The Local Authority is required to put forward processes that monitor policies and performances relating to unaccompanied minors and trafficked children.
The Care of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children and Trafficked Children (2014) guidance further states that, managers should look beyond this guidance by trying to understand the risks and challenges faced by unaccompanied minors and trafficked children. This is to ensure that the right support and planning is given for the care of these children. There is need for training for everyone involved in the care of unaccompanied minors and trafficked children, so as to recognise the challenges faced by these service user groups. The social workers should be able to understand how these challenges impact on assessment, care planning and service delivery (Care of unaccompanied asylum seeking children and trafficked children, 2014).
The UKBA (2008) Better Outcomes: The Way Forward Improving the Care of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children guidance states that, there is need for training and for unaccompanied minors to be treated as a specialist group among young people receiving care and services from Local Authority. This is because the experiences faced by unaccompanied minors are totally different from others. Consistence in terms of service provision is essential because the service appropriate for any unaccompanied minor depends on an assessment of individual needs (UKBA, 2008).
The Refugee Council (2017) is the largest organization in the UK working with refugees and asylum seekers including unaccompanied minors by offering help and support. They ensure that the asylum seekers’ needs and concerns are addressed adequately. The Refugee Council (2017) states that they are campaigning for a UK asylum system that is fair and effective so that refugees and asylum seekers can get the protection they need.
Chapter 4 Theoretical Perspectives
4.1 Ecological perspective
To bring awareness and provide unaccompanied minors with guidance and information, an assessment of need is required (Wright, 2012). The National Children’s Bureau (2006) encourages a robust and holistic assessment of need by practitioners so as to fully understand the circumstances and experiences of each minor. The Ecological Approach to the Assessment of Asylum Seeking and Refugee Children explores the minor’s cultural, religious and political background and how it has impacted upon their life (Wright, 2012). Practitioners should consider these factors first before identifying any intervention which suits their needs and past experiences (Wright, 2012).
Howarth (2001, p.54) defined an ecological perspective as a model which concentrates on the minor’s developmental needs, parents’ capacity to respond to those needs and ‘ wider environmental factors interacting with one another over time’. An ecological approach balances the stressors and the support each minor receives in his/ her family environment and how they perceive their experiences (Howarth, 2001). The social workers will then have to take all the aspects of the child’s life into account to be able to come up with the best outcome for each minor (Wright, 2012). As an example, after receiving the immigration status, the social worker will support the minor to build up a support network in their home country which they may need in the near future (Wright, 2012). Crawley (2010) noted that usually an uncle or extended family member would have assisted the minor to flee the country if his/ her parents were killed, they will then try to make contact with that uncle or extended family.
Chapter 5- Current Statistics of UASC in the UK
According to the Home Office statistics in February 2012 Afghanistan, Iran, Eritrea, Albania and Vietnam were the top five countries of origin for unaccompanied minors (The Refugee Council, 2012). Children’s Legal Centre (2009) reported that most of them were aged 16- 17 years old. The Refugee Council (2012) stated that, in 2011, 82% of the minors who applied for asylum were males. The Home office Immigration Research and Statistics (2017) stated that there were around 3,472 unaccompanied minors in the UK in the year ended June 2016. This was a huge rise compared to the year ended 2015 which was 2, 252 (Home Office Immigration Research and Statistics, 2017).
Chapter 6- Discussion
Reasons for Migration
This literature suggests that children who are under the ages of 17 years old arrive in the UK to seek asylum without a parent or a close family member either with them or already settled in the UK whom they can live with. The literature demonstrates various reasons why unaccompanied minors leave their country of permanent residence and make a long and difficult journey to the UK alone. Crawley (2010) carried out a research investigating the reasons why asylum seekers including unaccompanied minors come to the UK. It was noted the most prevalent reasons why they make such a difficult journey to the UK as opposed to other European countries was often due to chance rather than choice. Mostly the decision for the minor to come to the UK would have been made on behalf of them by either a parent or a close family member. It was noted that agents or traffickers played a pivotal role by implementing a plan to assist unaccompanied minors to leave their home countries and travel a challenging journey to a place of safety or as cheap labour. Kohli (2007) affirmed that unaccompanied minors in most cases flee persecution and comes to the UK to seek political refuge rather than economic prosperity. Many suffered persecution or death threats from government authorities because of religious beliefs or were forced to participate in national military services. Kohli (2007) stated that, many parents would send their children voluntarily to other countries to seek protection which they cannot provide themselves.
Disputed age assessments
The social workers take on a huge responsibility of working with unaccompanied minors and normally whose ages are disputed. Many unaccompanied minors arrive in their host countries without any documentation to prove their ages as they are normally disputed by authorities. However, if they disclose their ages usually they are disbelieved. Giner (2007) and Knittingven (2010) noted that the minors’ whose ages have been disputed were normally given a benefit of a doubt and authorities would normally treat them as adults, and consequently lose their asylum claim credibility. Once a minor claims asylum in his/ her local area, the Local Authority have a legal duty of completing a Merton age assessment, reason being, many unaccompanied minors who claim to be below the age of 18 do not have documentation to support their claimed age. According to the Home Office (2011a), a robust assessment in terms of the minor’s physical appearance, behaviour and experiences should be carried out in order to establish their actual date of birth.
Suitable foster placements
The legal meaning of ‘private foster care’ according to Children Act 1989 section 66 is defined as, ‘an arrangement that is made privately, without the involvement of the Local Authority, for the care of a child under the age of 16 (under 18 if disabled), by someone other than a parent or close relative and as an arrangement that endures beyond 28 days (Children Act, 1989). It is the responsibility of Local Authorities to find a suitable foster placement for unaccompanied minors to give them identity and a sense of belonging. When minors are placed in private foster placements there are some challenges which they could potentially, and this ranges from low self- esteem, abandonment, poor housing and overcrowding, social isolation, physical and emotional neglect as noted by (Kearney, 2007; Brownlees and Finch, 2010). On the contrary, children and families social workers also face some challenges when assessing foster placements for minors. The challenges associated with placement assessment, such as the absence of documents and the minors’ relationship with the future foster carer is usually addressed (Connolly, 2014).
Unaccompanied minors and mental health issues (PTSD)
The literature noted an increase in the number of unaccompanied minors experiencing mental health problems such as Post Traumatic stress disorder. Majumder (2014) found out that the prevalence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in unaccompanied minors has meant a development of services for them. The literature review highlighted that the services in place should be tailor made to meet the minors’ specific requirements. Cognitive Behavioural therapy or ‘talking therapy’ is widely used or has remained the predominant method of mental health treatment in children and adolescents. This is used alongside the use of medication; however the effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or ‘talking therapy’ has not been fully assessed. Most unaccompanied minors reported that they found engaging with the ‘talking therapy’ more difficult and opt to medication treatment. This may be because retelling their stories might trigger negative memories therefore they would rather opt of medical treatment. Contrary, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can also be a challenge on unaccompanied minors due to language barrier, even when using interpreters. Huemer and Vostanis (2010) discussed that, normally psychiatrist will defer the treatment until the unaccompanied minors’ language and communication has improved, and this should be weighed against the risks.
A Multi agency approach
It is important to consider the significance of multi- agency working when providing care and support to unaccompanied minors. Munro (2011) reaffirmed that Working Together to Safeguard Children (2015) policy demands that:
“……organisations and individuals should work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people in accordance with the Children Act 1989 and 2004” (Munro, 2011, p.42).
Inter professional working ensures that minors receive the care and support entitled to them as well as establishing a positive relationship between the minor and the professional involved (Kohli, 2007).
Stability is the foundation stage in the lives of unaccompanied minors especially if they are in stable placements which support them to succeed in their education, make transition from care to adulthood and be in employment (Stein, 2005). It helps the unaccompanied minors to develop some coping strategies to be able to deal with their experiences. Consequently, continuity will be part of their lives within their education, relationships and communities (Marsh & Peel, 1999).
Chapter 7- Implications for Social Work Practice and Policy
Many unaccompanied minors who arrive in the UK seeking protection from the British government are looked after by the Local Authority. This responsibility on Local Authority is putting unbearable pressure on services and the local government’s finances (Kelly 2007).The influx of unaccompanied minors in the UK has made it difficult for the Local Authorities to manage them (Kelly, 2007). Most Local Authorities care for 1000 unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers per year as opposed to 50 per year and this has been quite a challenge on most Local Authorities (Kelly, 2007).
The Human Rights Act (1998) states that, all human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, however, the media has made it so evident that Britain is struggling to support unaccompanied minors and it has now become a growing concern in the country today. The Human Rights Act (1998) applies to any individual living within or outside the UK, regardless of circumstances or nationality; until an unaccompanied minor or an asylum seeker receives refugee status, their rights are often denied and they are left in limbo. Therefore the principle of anti- discrimination and anti oppressive practice plays an important role in social work practice (BASW, 2016).
Dominelli (2008) urged social workers to engage and be involved in campaigning for the asylum seekers rights including unaccompanied minors to ensure they are recognised and maintained. The social workers’ responsibilities are to ensure that all individuals are accepted and treated fairly regardless of their background or socioeconomic status. Asylum seekers whether they have immigration status or not, are still human beings with basic rights and needs, therefore service providers are encouraged to not lose sight of that (Dominelli, 2008).
The Local Authority has a duty to provide services to minors through section 17 and section 20. The Children act (1989) section 17 (i) states that, “it shall be the general duty of every Local Authority to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their local area who are in need, by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children’s needs”. Section 17 of the same Act also states that, a Local Authority may allow a voluntary organisation to offer such service on their behalf. Section 20 states that, the Local Authority has a responsibility to care for any child no matter his/ her background, who may be in need of a service. The Local Authority is obligated to accommodate such minor under section 20 (3).
The Children (Leaving care) Act (2000) provides support for unaccompanied minors in their transition from childhood to adulthood and independent living. Under this Act, the Local Authority provides advice and support to care leavers between the ages of 16 – 18 and up to 21 years old or up to 24 if they are in full time education. The Act increases the duties and powers of the Children Act 1989 by allowing social workers to undertake an assessment of needs, such as health, education, housing and independent living skills. A personal advisor will be provided by the Local Authority to the minor, who has a responsibility of offering good advice when needed.
Chapter 8- Conclusion
This literature review demonstrates evidence of positive and negative experiences of unaccompanied minors and how they can be fully supported once they arrive in the UK. Every year, thousands of people arrive in the UK and among them are unaccompanied minors fleeing war, persecution, political disturbances and often experienced high levels of trauma and loss. They leave behind their culture, communities, homes and everything they know and make a long and dangerous journey and upon arriving in the UK they are faced with uncertainties and challenges of starting new lives for themselves. Usually in places foreign to them and sometimes in a hostile environment where they face resistance from the society. These negative challenges and experiences can be detrimental to their mental health and overall wellbeing. Therefore, help and support need to be implemented in order for them to move on with their lives and integrate into the society. This can be done either through placing the unaccompanied minors into private foster placements or mental health intervention to those who suffered trauma and loss. As discussed in this literature review, the experiences of unaccompanied minors have been addressed as narrated by themselves, as well as their support needs and professional interventions (Connolly, 2014).
The review has identified the issues impacting unaccompanied minors not just from their own perspective but Local Authorities’ as well (Bhabha and Finch, 2006). In the UK, there is a lot of literature exploring their experiences, including pre- experiences such as war, trauma and persecution. However, more emphasis needs to be put on how unaccompanied minors should be supported when transitioning into adulthood and when entering education (Barry and Mendez, 2011). It is apparent that our knowledge in terms of unaccompanied minors’ experiences in and leaving care in quite limited. Guentner (2016) emphasised that unaccompanied minors have the same basic rights and protections as British children. The Children Act (1989) prohibits any forms of discrimination on the grounds of nationality or immigration status. Its key principle states that the welfare and best interests of the child must be central to all actions and decisions made on their behalf.
Age assessment on unaccompanied minors was seen as the most inhumane and controversial practice by professionals as evidenced by the review. The review highlighted that age assessment cannot be fully relied upon because of its inconsistencies and estimations. Therefore a consistent and accurate age assessment remains unsolved as there are a lot of children born without birth certification, especially minors from third world countries who arrive to the UK without any documentation (Fell and Hayes (2007).
As evidenced by Mind (2009) there is a shortage of trained medical interpreters to support unaccompanied minors during their mental health intervention. Usually friends or family members are widely used in less ethnically diverse areas as it can be quite a challenge to find interpreters in such areas (Mind, 2009). Consequently, mental health intervention might be postponed until the unaccompanied minors’ language has improved and this should be weighed against the risks (Huemer and Vostanis, 2010). Barrie and Mendez (2011) identified a gap in the experiences of unaccompanied minors in terms of their mental health needs and emphasised that they needed to be explored further. Victims of torture and trauma might need to receive more support in safeguarding their health; therefore a review of the support they receive might need to be considered.
The asylum process can be a challenge in itself and Local Authorities should ensure that they provide adequate and clear information about the asylum process and accommodation arrangements either through foster placements or hostel accommodation. Refugees and unaccompanied minors should be involved in the asylum processes and thereby minimising some of the stresses associated in the asylum processes.
The Local Authority will need to train or review the skills required to provide adequate and appropriate support to these unaccompanied minors. Unaccompanied minors find themselves in unfamiliar environments, therefore Local Authorities should make them feel welcome and outline clearly the support entitled to them. A lot of emphasis should be put in terms of community solidarity as most refugees face hostility from native citizens in their receiving countries. The Local Authority should ensure that support is available to all citizens both refugees and native citizens, so that they do not feel that refugees only are the ones benefitting. However, the question still remains whether the UK is doing enough in supporting the unaccompanied minors in their integration and adaptation in the community and in improving their experiences in the UK.
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