Posted: 21 June 2014

'The resilience of young people is exceptional and inspiring'

This year during Refugee Week we're celebrating the contributions children and young people make to the UK. If you haven't yet visited the Refugee Week website and helped us increase the very low levels of support asylum-seekers receive, please do.

Today, our Project Worker Kathleen Upsdale answered our questions about what we do to support young refugees in the Manchester area.

Q: For how long have you worked at The Children's Society?

A: I’ve worked for 3 years and 9 months at the Manchester Hope Young Refugee Service project.

What do you do?

I am a project worker and a qualified social worker. My role involves planning, delivering and evaluating all areas of our refugee, asylum and migrant work in Manchester.

Who do you work with? Are there specific age ranges of young refugees you support?

I work with young people who come from abroad, including refugees, asylum seekers and migrants aged 13-25 years old.

Most of the young people I support are children and young people who have come to the UK without their families.

How do you provide support?

Through individual support, a drop-in session, groups (weekly, monthly and a well-being group) and short courses. I also can provide food parcels for young people who are destitute.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

On a day to day basis, the challenges are juggling all of my commitments, staying on top of my recording and ensuring that I can still provide a responsive service for children and young people in need. Less frequently, the challenges can be when young people disclose information that is shocking and sensitive and being able to find the right response in the moment so that they feel supported and safe.

Why is what you and your colleagues do important?

In Manchester the project provides a catch all service that young people from abroad can be referred to for support. Often we are the first agency that has taken the time to get to know the child or young person and is available to support them through the daunting Home Office and social services processes in the UK.

Some of the most important work we do is to believe young people when they talk about themselves and their experiences, and to get to know them really well so that we can support them in court to challenge wrongful decisions made about them.

For example, in 2011 I met a young person who is Kurdish from Iran who was really struggling to cope after he had been age assessed as being over 18. He told me that he was only 15 years old and that he had always lived with his family who had looked after him in Iran.

When he had to flee from Iran he ended up in the UK and because he was age-assessed as being over 18 he was placed into housing through the National Asylum Support Service. This was very scary for him as he did not speak English and was fearful of the older men he lived with and he did not know how to cook or look after himself.

His mental health deteriorated and he was very low in mood, angry, frustrated and anxious. He started to self-harm and had to spend some time on a psychiatric ward. We supported him to challenge his age decision and after a long process, including 3 days in court where we and the young person had to give evidence to a Judge, his real age was accepted in February 2013. This then meant that he could access Social Services support, age appropriate housing, he could go to school with his peers, his asylum case could be assessed taking into account the fact that he was a minor and he could start to think positively about his situation.

I still support this young person as his asylum case is ongoing and for him, this is perhaps the best part about our support as we have been able to stand beside him throughout all of the ups and downs of his case. Also, having group sessions that provide a safe space for young people to come and meet and develop their skills and social networks is very important, especially as many are here without the support of their families and some may find it hard to trust people and to build meaningful relationships.

What’s your favourite part of the job?

I have two favourite parts – one is when we can successfully challenge decisions as this can make a big difference for young people and their future prospects. The other is being in a group session and seeing young people thoroughly enjoying and engaging with an activity we’ve planned.

This week is Refugee Week, which is raising awareness of the huge issue of the plight of refugees. If you would like people to understand one thing about young refugees, what would it be?

That the uncertainty and helplessness children and young people can feel in the UK as a result of the processes here truly undermines the sense of safety that asylum is meant to provide. The resilience of young people to overcome these odds is exceptional and inspiring.


More about Refugee Week

Read our policy officer's blog the very low levels of support asylum seekers receive, and how you can help

Visit the Refugee Week website

By Kathleen Upsdale - Programme staff

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Hey Katie, fantastic work that you are doing there, keep it up, all the best Gill :) x