Safeguarding Refugee Youth: The Good and Bad of Leaving Care
To understand two very different experiences of turning 18, I interviewed two young men who had recently been through the transition. Their names have been changed to protect their anonymity.
Ahmad traveled from Afghanistan by himself. Once in the UK, He stayed with a cousin’s family while they helped him get access to social services and enrol in school. When he turned sixteen, his social worker offered him housing and Ahmad decided to move out of his cousin’s apartment since there were only 2 bedrooms and 10 people sleeping in it.
Ahmad spoke highly of his social worker, who he said works very hard to help Ahmad with life in the UK. Other social services that he has received include housing, his solicitor, and education. Ahmad actually found a solicitor before a social worker and then his solicitor found a social worker for him.
Ahmad hasn’t seen much of the transition yet because it has only been a few months since he turned 18. Thus far he’s remained with the same social worker who helped him to apply for benefits upon turning 18. He is receiving support as a student and his college has let him stay. Ahmad said that his social worker was a huge help in the process of applying for these benefits.
Ahmad’s social worker has been deeply involved in general, and Ahmad says his social worker “works very hard for [him].” After Ahmad turned 18, his social worker had Ahmad meet with the 18+ team whom he will eventually transition to, and told him that the transition to that team would begin six months after he turned eighteen.
In the future, Ahmad hopes that he will be granted formal refugee status and be able to stay in the UK permanently. After finishing college, he plans to go to university. He’s considering studying business but has no firm plans yet.
Benjamin’s journey from the DRC was an arduous one. His journey began by taking a bus to Kenya, then another bus to Ethiopia, and finally a plane from Ethiopia to the UK. He stayed with another adult from the DRC for a couple of weeks upon arrival, who then took Benjamin to the Home Office to apply for aslyum. Benjamin was placed in foster care and received benefits while in care, including a social worker, tuition for college, housing benefits, and a pass to a gym. Upon arrival, Benjamin started English classes. Once his English was at a high enough level, he began attending college.
Unfortunately, the life that Benjamin had been building in the UK changed dramatically shortly after he turned 18. His social worker completely failed to prepare him for the differences that would come along with becoming a legal adult. After Benjamin’s eighteenth birthday, his social worker started telling him that things would change–a far cry from Ahmad’s experience of being prepared in advance. Benjamin was not transitioned to an 18+ team due to lack of legal status in the UK. Instead, he was simply told that two months after his eighteenth birthday, all care support would stop.
When his benefits ran out, Benjamin didn’t know where to turn. His housing, food, and college support were all stopped, and Benjamin was out of resources. He ended up staying with a friend, who helped support him until he came to The Forum, where our social worker found Benjamin a place to live. Benjamin had difficulty finding emotional support in this time period, as well–he only had a couple of friends who were asylum seekers, so most of his peers did not understand what he was going through.
Benjamin thinks that the Home Office should continue to support people until they turn 21, so that later arrivals like him can finish college and have a real chance at finding a job. He tried to return to college this year, but is not receiving education benefits and unable to pay. Benjamin hopes to return to college and eventually attend university in the future, and eventually wants to work in media.
Listen to Benjamin talk about what the hardest parts of turning 18 were for him:
[h3]Conclusions[/h3]Much of an unaccompanied child’s experience upon turning eighteen depends on individual circumstances. As Ahmad’s experience shows us, a positive relationship with his social worker has made all of the difference in the world. Miscommunication and lack of understanding by social workers, on the other hand, can lead to situations like Benjamin’s. It is imperative that those working with separated children who are becoming legal adults recognize this and work to make their communication clear, inform themselves about all the options, and prepare children for the transition ahead.