Culture of disbelief
One of our refugee and migrant practitioners tells us how she has seen a noticeable difference in young people who get support early, and those which have to face things alone.
Having a legal guardian would help many unaccompanied young people navigate difficult assessments and applications when they arrive.
Two years ago, a young person was referred to us for an age assessment. When I went to meet him, he hadn’t had much contact with his social worker and he hadn’t been adequately told what an age assessment was. He was initially assessed as over eighteen and the assessment was clearly unlawful as it was only conducted by one social worker.
The local authority also failed to consider the young person's responses to the findings, and didn't allow him opportunities to explain discrepancies. Acting as his appropriate adult, I managed to get the local authority to reassess with the help of a solicitor. The young person was then reassessed by two social workers and they accepted his real age.
Young people we work with
This young person has thrived more easily than other young people we work with. Having a quick resolution to his age dispute meant he was adequately supported and didn’t experience the uncertainties and precariousness of going into NASS, being dispersed, being moved. His asylum case was also resolved more quickly.
The outcomes could have been improved even further with a guardian who can explain earlier on in the process what the age assessment was about, how it would be conducted, what it meant.
Too many professionals
With other young people I’ve worked with who have complex support needs, having a single professional coordinating other professionals, advocating across the board would be immensely helpful. There’s often confusion about the number of professionals and their different roles.
In my experience a high proportion of social workers and personal advisers do not have adequate training in supporting unaccompanied young people and often provide inadequate or inappropriate advice and support.
Need for early support
A lot of cases are referred to us or emerge (e.g. through friends referring to us) at a point where there is a limited amount we can do. In the last couple of years I’ve worked with a few young people who have had refusals from FtT and can’t at that stage add new evidence, and where solicitors have sometimes failed to represent the young person's situation adequately. For example, not commissioning expert reports or not highlighting vulnerability and mental health. If these young people had had earlier contact with us, or someone with expert knowledge linked with them at the beginning, making sure that their interests were being adequately represented, this would have saved, in some cases, years of trauma, uncertainty, waiting, having to make fresh claims and go to court.
Culture of disbelief
They also have to contend with so much distrust and interrogation when they arrive - the Home Office questioning their accounts, and social services not believing their ages. Having someone on their side from the beginning who they can build trust with from an early point would be so valuable and could really improve engagement both ways.
After age disputes, young people often have a really difficult time trusting the local authority to look out for their best interests, and having a consistent person to back them up would make such a difference.