Social Work Practice with
Young People Facing Removal
A qualified social worker, who holds a BA(Hons) Social Work Degree, graduating in July 2009
from Leeds Metropolitan University, UK. Has been working for Leeds Childrenâ€™s Social Work
Service as a social worker in the Childrenâ€™s Asylum and Refugee Team since September 2009,
now based in a 13+ Looked After Childrenâ€™s Team. Prior to this, she has also worked for
Refugee Council and lived in Uganda as a volunteer teacher through Africa and Asia Venture.
Correspondence to Frances Wright. E-mail: [email protected]
This paper explores the challenges that arise when working with unaccompanied
asylum-seeking children in the UK and discusses the conflict between government legislation and the values and ethics which inform social work practice. It highlights the distressing experiences young asylum seekers go through when faced with forced removal
and how such traumatic events can affect their capacity to make informed decisions. The
paper reflects upon the wider implications of how social workers (and other professionals) deliver the unique support unaccompanied young people require. It recommends working in partnership with young people and using an ecological approach
to assessing their needs in order to positively inform future practice.
Keywords: Asylum, unaccompanied young people, forced removal, voluntary returns,
Accepted: October 2012
Home Office immigration statistics show that, in 2011, there were 19,804
asylum applications made (Home Office, 2012b) and, of those, 1,277 were
unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) (Refugee Council, 2012).
Eighty-two per cent of UASC applicants were male and Afghanistan
remained the country of origin for the largest number of asylum-seeking
# The Author 2012. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of
The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.
British Journal of Social Work (2014) 44, 1027â€“1044 doi:10.1093/bjsw/bcs175
Advance Access publication November 23, 2012
children, accounting for 30 per cent of UASC applications. The top five nationalities of unaccompanied children were Afghani, Iranian, Eritrean,
Albanian and Vietnamese (Refugee Council, 2012).
If the Home Office decide that an unaccompanied minorâ€™s claim does not
satisfy the criteria for protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention or
Humanitarian Protection, the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA)
has a policy commitment to grant a period of Discretionary Leave until
the child turns seventeen and a half years of age. This is usually implemented if it is deemed that there are no â€˜adequate and safe reception arrangementsâ€™ in the childâ€™s country of origin for them to return to. Once an UASC
with Discretionary Leave reaches seventeen and a half, they are entitled to
apply for an extension of leave to remain (Home Office, 2010).
Since the beginning of 2010, social workers supporting UASC have
noticed that there has been significant change in the decisions made by
the Home Office regarding extensions of leave to remain. This often
results in many asylum-seeking young people being refused permission to
stay in the UK after they reach their eighteenth birthday. Once a young
person with Discretionary Leave reaches seventeen and a half years of
age, the Home Office will inform them that they are expected to return
to their home country, as soon they will no longer be a child (Home
Office, 2008). In the past, many young people have been successful in applying for extensions of leave post eighteen. Recent emphasis now appears to
be on reducing the availability of â€˜limited or discretionary leaveâ€™ in order to
push for hasty returns which Dorling (2008) argues is due to the UKBA
tightening immigration control and saving on the leaving care costs that
looked after children are entitled to.
This paper draws attention to how government immigration legislation
impacts on social work practice. It explores the possibilities available to
young people facing removal and highlights the support they require
from Local Authorities Childrenâ€™s Social Work Services Departments.
The Monthly Asylum Application Tables (Home Office, 2011b) show
that, since 2008, there has been a 70 per cent decrease in the number of unaccompanied minors claiming asylum. This has resulted in many local authorities disbanding specialist childrenâ€™s asylum teams. Consequently,
unaccompanied minors are now being supported by looked after childrenâ€™s
area offices, which have limited experience of asylum cases. This paper aims
to discuss the implications of how social workers engage with unaccompanied young people and how using an ecological approach to assessing their
needs can positively inform future practice.
Why do unaccompanied minors come to the UK?
Every year, an unknown number of UASC enter the UK, as statistics are
only available for those who make an asylum application. UASC are
1028 Frances Wright
defined as children under the age of eighteen who arrive in the UK, claim
asylum and who are without close adult family members either
accompanying them or already present in the UK whom they can join
The Refugee Council commissioned research (Crawley, 2010) to investigate the affecting factors and reasons why asylum seekers come to the UK.
It examined the decisions made by asylum seekers and concluded that, in
the majority of cases, the reason they arrive in the UK, as opposed to
other European countries, is often due to chance rather than choice. The
report is based on evidence gathered through a review of the existing literature and semi-structured interviews with forty-three refugees and asylum
seekers living in the UK, ten of whom entered the UK as unaccompanied
The most prevalent reason why these asylum seekers had arrived in the
UK was because the decision to bring them here had been made by
others. Agents play a significant role in the organisation and implementation of plans arranged to enable asylum seekers to illegally leave their countries of origin and travel across continents to a place of safety. Depending
on the agent and the price paid, the services received ranged from merely
making the physical travel arrangements for the journey to providing the
necessary travel documents and even accompanying people to the UK.
Many of the UASC interviewed only became aware that they were
coming to the UK after leaving their home countries and several young
people arrived in the UK with no knowledge of where they were
The research found that the cost agents charged for such a journey varied
enormously. This ranged from:
Â£200 to Â£15,000, and averaged around Â£3,000 to Â£4,000. The majority stated
that their families (or, in some cases, the church or a family friend) either
paid for the journey or contributed towards it (Crawley, 2010, p. 31).
The primary reason for UASC leaving their countries of origin and travelling to Westernised countries differs greatly depending on their race, nationality, religion, political opinion or sexuality. Research suggests that,
in the majority of cases, UASC seek political protection rather than economic wealth (Kohli, 2007). Many have suffered or predict persecution at
the hands of their government or local social groups. This can involve physical punishment or threats to their life due to various reasons, such as their
religious beliefs, forced national service or participation in criminal groups,
land disputes, being trafficked or sold in the sex trade, etc. Kohli (2007)
highlights how the families of UASC appear to â€˜volunteerâ€™ their children
to the care of different countries in order for them to gain the protection
they require but cannot provide themselves. Such experiences up to and including the journey itself make UASC vulnerable in specific ways whilst
testing their resilience and capacity to survive. As a result of this, UASC
Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Young People Facing Removal 1029
require carefully planned packages of support in order to help them to overcome great loss and adversity.
Age assessments and the implications for local authority
social services departments
Once an UASC claims asylum, the local authorityâ€™s childrenâ€™s social services department in the area where they initially present are responsible
for completing a Merton compliant age assessment. Many asylum applicants who claim to be children do not have any definitive documentary evidence to support their claimed age. Therefore, a careful assessment of the
applicantâ€™s physical appearance, demeanour and the effects of previous
experiences is required in order to determine a precise date of birth for
use in the UK (Home Office, 2011a). Although this is completed by two
social workers, there is currently no prescribed way in which local authorities are obliged to carry out these assessments (Crawley, 2007). The courts
have, however, provided some general guidance to local authorities in a
case involving Merton Council (B v. London Borough of Merton, 
EWHC 1689 (Admin), available online at www.bailii.org/ew/cases/
EWHC/Admin/2003/1689.html), in which judgment was handed down
by Stanley Burnton J. in the High Court on 14 July 2003 (Home Office,
2011a). If the age assessment concludes that the UASC is under the age
of eighteen, the young person will then be accommodated as a looked
after child and allocated a social worker under the provisions of Part III
of the 1989 Children Act, section 20, which states that:
(1) Every local authority shall provide accommodation for any child in need
within their area who appears to them to require accommodation as a result
ofâ€”(a) there being no person who has parental responsibility for him
(National Archives, 2011).
State intervention into individual and family life comprises a delicate
balance between providing support and controlling the available resources.
This is particularly apparent in the field of asylum and the initial decisions
made by social workers can have extensive effects on the levels of support
UASC receive (Hayes and Humphries, 2004).
The power and control social workers hold in the division and allocation
of resources suggest a conflict of interest when assessing the age of UASC.
Tensions arise between the role of social workers making decisions about a
child or young personâ€™s age whilst under pressure to manage budgets and
resources (Crawley, 2007).
If a young person is assessed to be over eighteen, then they are referred
into the adult asylum system, where they are supported by the National
Asylum Support Service (NASS). This accumulates to the provision of accommodation in a shared property and a weekly allowance which is valued
1030 Frances Wright
as below the poverty line, the equivalent of 70 per cent of income support
(Hayes and Humphries, 2004).
However, an age assessment does not solely determine whether a young
person is under or over eighteen. Being assessed as either under or over
sixteen will have significant implications for a UASC in terms of the level
of support and resources available to them. An UASC assessed to be
under sixteen years of age will be entitled to a foster placement/residential
home, where they will gain considerable support from carers, be supervised
and have access to extended payments, such as clothing budgets, whereas
UASC assessed as being sixteen or seventeen are likely to be placed into
a selection of accommodations ranging from supported lodgings to independent living shared accommodation properties with no adult supervision
Once the age of a UASC has been determined, this information is given
to the Home Office and, where the age assessment is the only source of evidence regarding their age, the date of birth is usually accepted (Home
Office, 2011a). When making asylum decisions, the Home Office case
owners will then grant leave to remain in the UK in accordance with the
date of birth provided by the assessing social workers. If a UASC is
granted Discretionary Leave until seventeen and a half years of age, it
could be argued that social workers are essentially having an absolute
effect on the number of years the young person will be entitled to remain
in the UK. The difference between being assessed to be seventeen rather
than sixteen is directly proportionate to the leave granted and, more importantly, the time in which removal will become imminent.
The looked after child (LAC) process for UASC:
a multi-agency approach
An important aspect to consider when providing support to UASC is the
significance of inter-professional working. Munro (2011) endorses the fact
that Working Together to Safeguard Children (2010) sets out how:
… 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 the Children Act 2004 (Munro, 2011, p. 42).
The information a young person requires when facing removal is very specific and demands careful explanation, as young people have very few
choices remaining at this stage. The way in which this information is delivered can have a large impact on how a young person perceives their social
workerâ€™s opinion. It is therefore essential to support young people to access
this information without giving the impression that you are betraying them
by going against their wishes. For example, if a young person expresses their
worries and fears of being persecuted on return to their home country and
Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Young People Facing Removal 1031
their social worker continues to give them information about voluntary
returns, it is possible that the young person will feel they are not being listened to and that the social worker has the same motives and agenda as the
Home Office. This could then lead young people to believe that social
workers are monitoring them, taking a role in surveillance and supporting
the Home Office to successfully return them to their countries of origin
against their will (Chase, 2010).
There are many specialist organisations that can provide UASC with information surrounding removal and the options available to them. Receiving this advice from professionals outside of social care can consequently
help the young person to differentiate between the professional giving
them the details they may not want to hear and the professional who is
there to support them when making such difficult decisions. This will
help social workers to remain neutral in the eyes of the young person and
therefore continue to provide the necessary emotional support.
Regular contact with the Home Office and non-government organisations (NGO) such as the International Organisation for Migration
(IOM), Refugee Action and the Red Cross enables workers to be informed
and up to date with current policies, procedures and the range of services
available for young people who find themselves in such circumstances.
Inter-professional working not only secures a positive working relationship for social workers and young people, but also ensures that UASC
get the level of support they require and are entitled to. Kohli (2007)
explains how social workers acknowledge that their skills are limited and,
in order for young people to deal with their overwhelming circumstances,
support is needed from health and therapeutic services.
When a UASC becomes a looked after child (LAC), they are referred to the
National Health Service LAC nurse teamin their area. They will be allocated a
LAC nurse who will complete a health needs assessment (HNA) as soon as
practicable after a child becomes â€˜looked afterâ€™ and then annually thereafter.
This assessment can alternatively be completed by a registered medical practitioner, school nurse or midwife (Department of Health, 2002). This aims to
assess the young personâ€™s physical and emotional health and highlight any
further support needs, such as therapeutic counselling. Although the HNA
only takes place once a year, the LAC nurses are available to address any
health issues that arise and support social workers to access services within
the Department of Health (Cocker and Allain, 2008).
Munro (2011) confirms that the current government are continuing to
emphasise the importance of multi-agency working and explores how
schools are particularly well placed to identify young people in need of
help or support. Teachers are likely to see children and young people
more so than any other professional and daily contact enables them to identify behaviour trends in young people and, more importantly, when their behaviour is altered. Pearce et al. (2009) also highlight the importance of
asylum-seeking children attending school and reinforced the need for
1032 Frances Wright
effective and active protocols between agencies, so that teachers know whom
to contact in the event that risks to child welfare and well-being are
The LAC review process is an essential forum for all professionals
involved in an UASCâ€™s life to come together and share the experiences
and opinions of the child or young person. The purpose of the review is
to monitor the young personâ€™s progress and confirm that their care plan
and package of support are meeting their needs. When making decisions
about the future of a UASCâ€™s life, as with any other LAC, it is the social
workerâ€™s responsibility to consult with the child/young person, any relevant
family members and other significant people in the young personâ€™s life; this
can include teachers, health professionals, therapists, etc. Each one of these
people should be involved in the LAC review process (Cocker and Allain,
2008). This multi-agency approach provides a holistic method of delivering
support in order to ensure that all the young personâ€™s concerns and needs
are addressed appropriately.
Options available to UASC liable for removal and
the fear factors surrounding return
When a young person has been through the appeals process and is â€˜Appeal
Rights Exhaustedâ€™ (ARE), the Home Office will issue â€˜over-stayerâ€™ papers
and inform them that they are now in the UK illegally. At this point, young
people are liable for removal under section 10 of the 1999 Immigration and
Asylum Act (Home Office, 2008). There are two ways in which young
people can return to their home countries. The first is forced removal by
the Home Office; the second is through voluntary means.
When a failed asylum seeker is liable for removal, the UKBA will issue
IS.151B papers which notify the individual that a decision has been made to
remove them from the UK and that their asylum/human rights claim has
been refused. These papers set out reporting restrictions and advise the
young person that they have an â€˜in-countryâ€™ right of appeal against the decision. This means that they will then have a minimum of ten working days
to file an appeal before the UKBA are able to issue the removal directions
papers IS.151D. The IS.151D informs the individual of the specific details of
their removal from the UK, including the country they are being removed
to (Home Office, 2012a).
The IS.151D is normally issued alongside their detention either when
attending reporting events set out by the IS.151B or, if the young person
is not complying with such restrictions, the UKBA will attempt to arrest
them during an unannounced home visit. The 1999 Immigration and
Asylum Act Part VII provides extended powers to immigration officers,
allowing them to enter premises for the purposes of searching and arresting
Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Young People Facing Removal 1033
over-stayers who do not comply with reporting restrictions (Home Office,
Despite UKBA policies advising not to visit home addresses either very
late at night or very early in the morning, there is no definition of what is a
â€˜normalâ€™ or â€˜reasonableâ€™ hour to visit (Home Office, 2012c). This means that
visits can happen in the early hours of the morning when it is most likely
residents will be home. The experience of having immigration officers
enter your home is likely to be traumatic and distressing not only for the
young person being detained, but also for the other young people residing
in the property. The young person would be arrested and detained in a local
police station before being taken to a detention centre, where they will
remain until a charter flight is arranged.
The alternative option available to refused asylum seekers is to start the
process of returning home voluntarily. In contacting organisations such as
IOM or Refugee Action and declaring they will return home voluntarily,
the Home Office will grant a three-month allowance period in order for
failed asylum seekers to return of their own accord (Home Office,
2012d). The voluntary returns programme is managed by a charity called
Refugee Action, who assist failed asylum seekers to complete the assisted
voluntary returns application form, arrange travel documents/flights and
provide reintegration assistance on return to their home country. Each
person is given a sum of money in order to help with the first six months
of accommodation, finding a job or education and, most importantly,
they can offer in-country support and someone to meet them at the
airport upon their arrival (Home Office, 2012d).
At face value, the second of these options clearly appears to have a much
more positive and less oppressive outcome. The Home Office promote this
option during asylum interviews and throughout their contact with asylum
seekers. Social workers are encouraged to help young people access further
information and details surrounding voluntary returns so that they can
make informed decisions about the way in which to manage the inevitable
fact that they are going to return home.
For many reasons, several young people refuse to even consider returning home voluntarily. The dominant causes behind this seem to be fear and
guilt. In many cases, young people refuse to accept they will be returned to
their home country and hold hope that, at the last minute, they will be
granted leave to remain. Dorling (2008) argues that:
Although there is consistent commitment to developing assisted voluntary
returns packages to help the reintegration of young asylum seekers in
their home countries, many young people who have come to this country
out of desperation and fear, hold little or no belief that adequate and safe
reception arrangements could be achieved (Dorling, 2008, p. 16).
As previously discussed, most young people will have travelled to the UK
with the aid of an â€˜agentâ€™. Crawley (2010) highlights that less than a third
1034 Frances Wright
of asylum seekers have the means to finance their journey independently and
that it is likely their remaining family members, family friends or community
groups will have given money, possessions and even sold their land in order
to raise the amount required to get their child to safety. As a result of this,
UASC rarely forget how their journey was possible and consequently feel
that returning voluntarily highlights their failure. They often believe returning voluntarily would be seen as ungrateful and disrespectful to their families
and the communities who supported and provided for them.
In order to avoid the risks UASC believe they will face on return to their
countries of origin, many young people abscond once they become ARE
and live within their communities illegally. When discussing possible
options with young people, this is obviously not one which social workers
are able to suggest or indeed support.
In these circumstances, the links UASC make within refugee and asylum
communities are essential. The support these groups can provide is diverse
and the knowledge of previous experiences provides an inclusive view of
all options available to them. Humphries (2006) observes that the most reliable support asylum seekers gain appears to come from NGOs and refugee
support groups. The majority of these are either run by staff originating from
the same backgrounds as asylum seekers or formed within asylum and
refugee communities. This means that the advice is given by people who
have a personal understanding of the experiences UASC are facing and
also share common languages. Perhaps most importantly, these charities
and community groups are independent from the state and therefore do
not have the limitations that social workers have in terms of the advice and
information that they can give. It is therefore vital that social workers link
UASC to this extended support network in order to give them the tools
and abilities they require to make informed decisions regarding voluntary
return, forced removal and the consequences of living in the UK illegally.
The social work task in preparation for removal and
the ethical dilemmas involved
Young people often find the thought of returning home extremely distressing. Home is a country from which they have fled and their fears of being
detained or even killed upon return are enduring. Upon initial assessment,
this would suggest that complying with government regulations and encouraging a young person to return to their home country would go against our
social work values and ethics. Social work values and ethics aim to ensure
that the protection and welfare of asylum-seeking and refugee children
are the same as those afforded to any other children in the social care
system (Kohli, 2007). This is confirmed by the General Social Care
Council (GSCC), as the first Code of Conduct states:
Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Young People Facing Removal 1035
As a social care worker, you must protect the rights and promote the interests of service users and carers.
When faced with a distressed young person, it would seem that forced
removal is not in their best interests and furthermore highlights the conflict
between immigration laws and the rights of a young person (LGA, 2008).
Consequently, it can be argued that completing such pieces of work can
be seen as going against the primary social work role of safeguarding
However, one might also argue that the prevailing notion of good practice in child and family welfare is that children should remain with their
parents if absolutely possible. Dorling (2008) discusses that the process of
returning young people to their countries of origin can be justified by the
assertion that, by granting Discretionary Leave, the Home Office deem
there to be no risk of persecution on return. Therefore, it is in the young
personâ€™s best interests to be removed from the UK and returned to the
care of their families.
Jowitt and Oâ€™Loughlin (2005) draw attention to the concept of a â€˜child in
needâ€™ and the duties and responsibilities placed upon local authority social
workers by the 1989 Children Act. Section 17 instructs every local authority
to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area and highlights the importance of supporting the upbringing of such children by
their families wherever it is possible to maintain the childâ€™s development.
Hayes and Humphries (2004) discuss how the framework for the assessment of children in need and their families is aimed at supporting children
and young people to achieve the best possible outcomes available to them.
It goes on to state that their families, along with agency services, should play
a paramount role of providing for and enabling young people to achieve
such levels. Consequently, the local authority should only intervene in circumstances where a childâ€™s parents do not have the capacity to safeguard
and provide adequate care which would result in the child failing to achieve.
Whilst there are several cases in which UASC have reported abuse from
family members, most talk about the care they received from their families
with great love and affection. Crawley (2007, 2010) interviewed several
UASC with a wide range of ethnicities and found that, in the majority of
cases, young people state that they fled their home countries due to the persecution they faced as a result of their (or their familiesâ€™) political opinion,
race or religion. This demonstrates that, in many cases, UASC show no
signs or concerns about their parentsâ€™ abilities to care for them. With this
in mind, it could be argued that providing support to UASC with Discretionary Leave is endorsing the separation of children from their families.
In these cases, the reunification with their parents through removal or voluntary returns could be seen as a positive outcome and adhering to our
social work value base.
1036 Frances Wright
Chase (2010) discusses how the positioning of social workers within the
asylum system is a difficult one to negotiate:
They are expected to apply social care principles such as â€˜the best interest of
the childâ€™, yet work within very clear organisational boundariesâ€”frequently
dictated by resource and funding limitations (Chase, 2010, p. 2050).
This area of social work faces many ethical dilemmas and conflicts of interests. In order to work within government policies and procedures, social
workers are expected to use the positive relationships built with young
people to assist in promoting voluntary returns. As a professional,
employed by the government, a social worker is expected to comply with
and believe that the Home Office have made the right decision and therefore these young people will not be at significant risk when returned home.
Assuming this, it would also be easy to believe that, in encouraging young
people to return voluntarily, you are helping them to avoid the frightening
and oppressive way in which the Home Office would remove them otherwise, which would consequently be managing risk.
Thompson (2005) states that professional practice within social work
involves not only knowledge and skills, but also values. With these tools,
social workers are responsible for making judgements and decisions regarding the best interests of both the individual and society. Due to the nature of
social work, these judgements carry risk and therefore social workers are
held accountable for the consequences of their actions.
There is no way of predicting or knowing what will happen once a young
person has been removed from the UK and arrives in their home country.
They may be able to get on with a new life but there is no guarantee of this.
If the social worker not only decides a UASCâ€™s age, but also influences the
young person to go home voluntarily, could it be argued that they are partially accountable for the subsequent consequences? If the Home Office
were wrong in their assessment of potential risk on return to their home
country, the young person could be persecuted or even killed.
Unfortunately, in asylum cases, young people are expected to provide
proof of the persecutions they face. On a personal level, the question still
remains: does the absence of physical evidence of abuse and or persecution
mean that the risk does not exist?
The meaning and methods of an ecological perspective
A combination of the personal worries linked to the possible consequences
of encouraging young people to return voluntarily, the prior likelihood of
young people remaining in the UK and the non-acceptance from the
young people themselves have all resulted in this important subject area
being neglected. Consequently, practice has not prepared UASC adequately for the probability of forced removal.
Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Young People Facing Removal 1037
Notwithstanding all of the above factors, approaching a discussion on voluntary returns and forced removal is very difficult and is all too often left to
the last minute, by which time all other options and appeals have failed. At
this point, young people become extremely distressed and do not have the
ability or time to understand the gravity of the situation and the options
available to them (Chase, 2010).
An assessment of their needs and circumstances is required in order to
educate and provide UASC with relevant guidance and information. The
Ecological Approach to the Assessment of Asylum Seeking and Refugee
Children (National Childrenâ€™s Bureau, 2006) highlights the need to assess
in a holistic manner in order to fully understand the individual needs of
the child. It enables social workers to explore the young personâ€™s life experiences alongside their current circumstances and aims to gain a comprehensive understanding of the cultural, political and religious influences in their
country of origin, the impact this environment has had upon their life and
the developmental needs it created in the past. Only then can we begin
to assess how such experiences relate to their present needs and identify appropriate interventions to support them to achieve.
An ecological approach to assessment uses a systems framework to
examine the relationship between the childâ€™s development and their internal and external influences:
It is a holistic model which focuses on the ways in which childrenâ€™s developmental needs, the capacity of their parents to respond appropriately to
those needs and wider environmental factors interact with one another
over time (Horwath, 2001, p. 54).
Horwath (2001) discusses how an ecological approach highlights the importance of assessing the balance between the stresses and support of a
childâ€™s family environment and their personal perceptions of their experiences. Taking all aspects of a young personâ€™s life into consideration
enables social workers to work towards the best possible outcome for
each young person. For example, as soon as a young person is granted discretionary or limited leave, investigating the possible support networks
within their home country which they may need in the future would help
them to feel able to make informed decisions. In many cases, where
young people have lost their parents, an uncle or extended member of
family has helped them to flee the country (Crawley, 2010). By making a
referral to the Red Cross, tracing investigations could be made in order
to contact such a person. This would mean that, in circumstances in
which a young person is likely to be removed from the UK, a family
member or friend could potentially be contactable for support upon their
return. Knowing this may then help the young person to come to terms
with their circumstances and return voluntarily, avoiding the distressing circumstances with forced removal.
1038 Frances Wright
Cocker and Allain (2008) discuss the three different assessment models
developed by Smale et al. (1993), the third of which is described as the â€˜exchange modelâ€™. This approach to assessment involves a â€˜power balanceâ€™
between the social worker and the service user:
Clients are viewed as experts in terms of identifying their own particular
needs (Cocker and Allain, 2008, p. 51).
When discussing the possibility of a young person returning to their country
of origin, it is paramount to work practically, therapeutically and with compassion whilst remembering that the young person is the expert when it
comes to understanding the country and environment from which they
have come. Munro (2011) confirms this by stating that:
Children and young people are a key source of information about their lives
and the impact any problems are having on them (Munro, 2011, p. 24).
Munro (2011) recommends the development of resources for early intervention. Although this is in the context of child protection, the same principle applies to all children in need, including UASC. This should be a
continuous process in which detailed information is given over time to
enable young people to really consider and digest their options. One tool
which supports this process is the Pathway Plan. The Pathway Plan is a
legal requirement for LAC after they reach the age of sixteen. It takes
over from the care plan and aims to prepare young people for independence. Brayne and Carr (2005) highlight the local authorityâ€™s duty, under
the 2000 Children (Leaving Care) Act, to support young people who
have been looked after to develop the required skills to move from care
into living independently.
The Pathway Plan aims to assess the needs of each young person, identify
their goals and map out a clear route to independence. Young people
should be encouraged to take ownership of the plan and be supported to
identify ways to meet their goals. The plan should cover future housing,
the development of independent living skills, education/employment, relationships with family and friends, finance and, most significantly for UASC,
contingency plans (Cocker and Allain, 2008).
This is the case of an Afghani boy who arrived in the UK aged fifteen.
For the purposes of confidentiality, he will be known as Mohammed.
Mohammedâ€™s father had been killed as a result of a land dispute and his
elder brother had gone missing. Mohammedâ€™s uncle believed that he too
would be killed if he remained in Afghanistan and consequently paid an
agent to bring him to the UK. Mohammed claimed asylum but the Home
Office did not accept that he was at risk and concluded that it would be
safe for him to return to Afghanistan once an adult. Mohammed was
Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Young People Facing Removal 1039
sixteen when granted Discretionary Leave to remain and therefore will
have been living in the UK for two and a half years by the time it
expires. Mohammed may apply for further leave to remain towards the
end of his Discretionary Leave but it is likely that he will be refused and
instructed to return to Afghanistan.
If a UASC is over sixteen at the point at which the Home Office grant
Discretionary Leave to remain, the Pathway Plan should be used as a parallel planning tool to prepare young people for the possibilities their future
may hold. Depending on their age, this would give UASC between six
months and two years to come to terms with the likelihood of removal
and a clear understanding of the options available to them should future
applications for extensions of leave and appeals fail.
Kane (2006) states that, unless a young person has been granted leave to
remain permanently in the UK, then a parallel planning approach to the
Pathway Plan must be applied in order to address all eventualities. He
goes on to highlight the additional support needs which require consideration, including immigration, voluntary returns, detention and family tracing.
Social workers need to plan for three possible outcomes. This is known as
â€˜triple planningâ€™ and each plan should run together simultaneously. One
plan should address the needs of the young person should they gain permanency in the UK, one preparing them for the possibility of returning
to their country of origin and one should UASC remain in the UK
without a grant of leave (Crawley, 2006).
The Pathway Plan draws upon solution-focused theories and gives young
people the opportunity to take ownership of planning for their futures.
However, it is also important to consider that, although the Pathway Plan
follows government policies and procedures, it is also idealistic. The
format in which the Pathway Plan is written centres on education and opportunities in the UK. If an UASC has been refused an extension of
leave to remain in the UK and is issued with removal notifications then
working towards such plans can create false hope and unrealistic aspirations. For example, should the Home Office plan to return a young
person to Afghanistan, their social worker cannot continue to plan for
them to attend college in the UK to achieve their desired qualification;
neither do they have the resources to provide detailed information on the
opportunities available to them in their countries of origin.
It is important to remember that the paramount aim of working in this
manner is to give young people the time to have a real understanding of
the processes involved with both remaining in the UK and returning to
their countries of origin, either through voluntary returns or by forced
removal. The aim of this is to enable and empower young people to
make informed decisions, rather than being forced to make life-changing
choices with little understanding of the consequences.
Working within these ecological and solution-focused approaches may be
empowering but they are also Westernised theories developed for people
1040 Frances Wright
who have shared Westernised experiences. This service user group is highly
multi-cultural, with a vast selection of languages, backgrounds, values,
faiths and experiences, few of which are Westernised. Therefore, it could
be argued that using the pathway plan is part of a routine set up to fulfil government policies and procedures rather than adapting support to meet the
specific needs of UASC. In order to deliver appropriate and realistic
pathway plans, Crawley (2006) argues that social workers need to be provided with guidance and support to enable them to help young people
develop the skills that would be most useful should they be returned,
such as accessing appropriate college courses which could develop skills
that could help them to get a job in their country of origin.
The use of interpreters is essential when aiming to assess holistically and
when planning appropriate support packages for UASC. The majority of
UASC arrive in the UK with very little or no English-language skills
(Crawley, 2010). Therefore, language and communication problems are a
significant barrier for asylum seekers when accessing services. Accessing accurate and appropriate interpreting services, alongside language-learning
opportunities, is crucial to empowering and enabling UASC to develop
their skills. Without this service, social workers would be unable to identify
the specific needs of UASC or the necessary provision of social care support
(Patel and Kelley, 2006).
Newbigging and Thomas (2010) explore the broad principles that need to
underpin social work practice with asylum seekers and refugees and recommend that effective communication requires readily available reliable interpretation services that have an understanding of both the cultural and
service context. Depending on the skills and training of interpreters
working with UASC, they can either improve the quality of assessments
or deter young people from being open and honest (Pearce et al., 2009).
It is important to be aware of the cultural implications of using certain interpreters; for example, if a UASC has come to the UK due to persecutions
faced as a result of having a Christian faith, the use of an interpreter
from the same country of origin who is Muslim may restrict a UASC
from feeling able to discuss their needs and fears. It is also important to
be aware that many interpreters could be living in the same communities
as UASC and consequently confidentially must be explained in depth to
young people so they feel at ease to discuss their hopes and concerns
without worrying that their personal information will then be discussed
This article intended to highlight the needs of young asylum seekers facing
forced removal and explore the options available to them. The objective
was to propose a realistic approach to identifying and providing beneficial
Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Young People Facing Removal 1041
support to young people whilst following government procedures. The following recommendations suggest ways in which to approach social work
practice with UASC and endorse the need for early intervention.
The procedure for informing UASC of the possible consequences to each
grant of leave needs to be implemented as soon as UASC are taken into
care. Once a young person has been age-assessed as being under eighteen
and accommodated by the local authority, the removal process should be
explained in line with the asylum procedures. Young people should be
informed that forced removal is a realistic outcome and that returning voluntarily is an option for them to consider. Social workers need to provide
detailed information throughout the support package to give UASC the
time to reflect, revisit and digest all the options available to them.
Social workers should respect the knowledge and opinions of young
people when planning appropriate intervention and recognise that they are
the experts when it comes to understanding their countries of origin and
the circumstances which they have endured. Working in partnership with
young people will empower them to identify their own needs and enable
social workers to assess holistically. This will promote an ecological approach
to assessing their needs when planning appropriate and relevant support.
Once a young person reaches sixteen years of age, the Pathway Plan
should be used as a tool to explore future needs and identify potential contingency plans should the Home Office grant Discretionary Leave or a
limited period of stay. Parallel planning is essential for young people with
discretionary/limited leave and should be used to educate UASC with
details of voluntary returns.
In order to provide a high standard of appropriate support, it is essential
that social workers introduce young people to specialist organisations and
services. Working together as a multi-professional team will allow young
people to benefit from the knowledge and expertise of each profession.
This should include health, education, social care, legal, immigration,
refugee/asylum charities, community groups and interpreting services.
The values and ethics of social work promote supporting young people
practically, therapeutically and with compassion. By following these recommendations, social workers can encourage young people to have an active
role in the decisions made regarding their futures. It is important to recognise that no amount of planning can make the removal experience pleasant
for young people, but the emphasis is on providing relevant support to the
best of our ability, whilst working within the constraints of government
Bianchini, K. (2011) â€˜Unaccompanied asylum-seeker children: Flawed processes and protection gaps in the UKâ€™, Forced Migration Review, 73, pp. 52 â€“ 3.
1042 Frances Wright
Brayne, H. and Carr, H. (2005) Law for Social Workers, 9th edn, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Chase, E. (2010) â€˜Agency and silence: Young people seeking asylum alone in the UKâ€™,
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Cocker, C. and Allain, L. (2008) Social Work with Looked After Children, Exeter, Learning Matters Ltd.
Crawley, H. (2006) Child First, Migrant Second: Ensuring that Every Child Matters,
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Crawley, H. (2007) When Is a Child Not a Child?, London, Immigration Law Practitioners Association.
Crawley, H. (2010) Chance or Choice: Understanding Why Asylum Seekers Come to the
UK, London, Refugee Council.
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seeking childrenâ€™, ChildRIGHT, 245(4), pp. 14â€“ 17.
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Volume 2, available online at www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/science-researchstatistics/research-statistics/immigration-asylum-research/immigration-tabs-q3-2011/.
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Procedures, available online at www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/documents/
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Learning Matters Ltd.
Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Young People Facing Removal 1043
Kane, S. (2006) Needs Assessment and Planning for Asylum Seeking and Refugee Young
People: A Good Practice Note, London, National Childrenâ€™s Bureau.
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1044 Frances Wright
Copyright of British Journal of Social Work is the property of Oxford University Press / USA
and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without
the copyright holder’s express written permission. However, users may print, download, or
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