This Refugee Week, Support Worker Becky Tooth from our Statham House project in Rochdale shares what it’s like to work with young people seeking asylum in the UK. 

I work at Statham House, where we support unaccompanied asylum seeking children. When the refugee camp in Calais was cleared, each local authority in the UK was asked to take on a certain number of children from the camp.
We’re a ten bed project, and we provide what is essentially supported housing.

When they leave the project, we hope the young people will have all the skills they need to live independently. It’s stuff that lots of us would learn in the family home – from the big things like budgeting and getting into college, to the little things like changing a lightbulb and putting flat-pack furniture together.

An average day for me can include everything from doing wake-up calls and accompanying young people to appointments, to providing one-to-one support. We also plan lots of activities. This week we’ll be baking for an open day, and we’ve got a mindfulness session planned. In the past we’ve done everything from creative writing and comedy workshops to running sessions.

Some days, we go into schools with young people using the service to deliver talks about what it means to be an asylum seeker. We’ve had some really positive feedback, and it’s a great opportunity to raise awareness about why people might need to seek asylum in this country.

Advocacy is one of the most important things that we do; it is the biggest way that our work ties into the value of believing in rights and responsibilities. It’s important for the young people we work with to know that someone cares, and that we’ve got their back.

One young man we worked with, who had come from Iraq, had his age disputed by the Local Authority. He had to go through an extensive age assessment process, and relive the trauma of his previous experiences. He was settled in his new life with friends and a place on an ESOL course when he was told that his support was being withdrawn, as they had assessed him as being over 18.

From Statham House, he first moved to a local accommodation project for adults, then to Croydon and finally on to Derby. He was placed in environments that could become very violent and scary for him with people much older than himself. I don’t think any of us could begin to imagine how terrifying, unsettling and lonely this must have felt for him; a young man that has suffered a lot from previous trauma.

Thankfully, we were able to advocate for his rights, and staff at Statham House put him in touch with a solicitor specialising in immigration, who helped him to appeal the decision. The young man returned to Statham House this week to thank us for all our support. He has had his status as a Looked After Child reinstated, is back at college, in accommodation he is happy with, and receiving the support he is entitled to. Of course the most crucial thing in all of this, is that he feels safe once again!

I have a rewarding job, and when we’re able to help a young person move into their own tenancy, it’s a fantastic feeling. Unfortunately, there can be so many bumps in the road, and situations like this exemplify why it’s so important for us to empower young people to understand their own rights and of the responsibilities of agencies working to support them.

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