Throughout most of 2020 resettlement schemes in the UK were put on hold due to the pandemic. Despite this, around 43% of people seeking asylum in 2020 were women and children, according to British Red Cross [1]. It is imperative for Local Authorities and charities to play a vital role in the wrap-around support for women and unaccompanied children.

A large proportion of these people seeking asylum in the UK are children, and many of them arrive in the country without a parent or guardian to support them. An Unaccompanied asylum-seeking child (UASC) is a person, who at the time of making their asylum application is under 18 and applying for asylum without an adult family member to support them. Local authorities need to work with charities and other national organisations to provide the wrap-around support these young people need to adjust to a safer life in the UK.

Through Care Coventry

Through Care Coventry is an organisation created by Coventry City Council, to provide support for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) and to manage referrals to social care. After holding assessing the individuals, the organisation arranges whatever support and assistance to meet the needs of the young person, which ranges from translations to emotional support.

Working across organisations providing children’s services is vital when providing holistic support to those who need it. We spoke to Alexandra Capitani, UASC team lead and Matt Clayton, Strategic Lead of Looked after Children at Coventry City Council, about how they work in partnership to provide the Through Care Service to unaccompanied asylum seeking children.

GE Insights: Could you tell us about your roles and responsibilities at Coventry City Council?

Alexandra: My name is Alexandra Capitani. I’m the team leader at Coventry City Council for a new team, the Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) team. My responsibilities are to manage and lead, currently, one social worker and a personal advisor for over 18s with solely UASC cases, and to also develop the services as a whole for UASC.

Matt: My name is Matt Clayton. I’m Strategic Lead for Looked After Children’s Practice, which means I have responsibility for all our social work with looked after children and care leavers from 0 through to 25. This includes children going through care proceedings and adoption with Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs), all the way through to our UASC teams and our care leavers. In Coventry, we have about 750 looked after children and about another 450 care leavers.

GE Insights: How is Through Care Coventry working to develop partnerships with organisations to provide support to Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC)?

Matt: From a strategic point of view, we’re part of the West Midland Strategic Migration Partnership. As part of this partnership, we meet together with other authorities in the region and Home Office colleagues to look at how we can support each other with UASC.

Before the national transfer team was mandated, we were already doing this voluntarily and we’re keen to make sure we continue this. Coventry has a reputation historically for being a welcoming city, we’re a city of peace and reconciliation. We stepped forward to help with the Syrian evacuation, the Afghan evacuation and we’re always looking at how we can help out.

Unlike some of our neighbours, we don’t get huge numbers of UASC because we don’t have an airport, port or service station. […]We still want to be proactive to make sure that we’re supporting UASC in Coventry, both because it’s the right thing to do, and because over the last four years we have developed a level of expertise in the area. A lot of this work has been driven by Alex and the other practitioners we have.[…]

Alex: These partnerships are not just with charities or the local authorities, they can also be with more mainstream services. For example, we’ve established partnerships with Specsavers, GP practices, and banks. Our partnerships are far-reaching to ensure we can support UASC as comprehensively as possible.

GE Insights: Could you tell us how the service supports transitions once an individual reaches 18 years old?

Alex: […] I think one of the key things for us has been to ensure we have the financial means to provide support UASC post-18, as other authorities struggle to continue their services when funding is reduced post-18. At ThroughCares Coventry we’re aware of this reduction and work hard to make sure we offer accommodation within budget for UASC after they turn 18. Working with our colleagues in housing and commissioners, we make sure all accommodation offers are affordable.

The money saved on housing can then be spent elsewhere to improve other aspects of support for UASC, particularly emotional wellbeing.

GE Insights: What can organisations do to provide better mental health support and services to UASC?

Mental health is crucial for all children. For UASC in particular, we sometimes find certain mental health services don’t have the necessary experience, cultural competence or resources to deal with specific UASC mental health needs. At the moment, we are currently working in conjunction with our CAMHS mental health team to review the services as a whole and specifically for UASC.

Alex: As part of our work with CAMHS, we try and address the gaps in services and issues such as the age criteria and the transition period between services. Through these discussions, we can identify ways to address the issues highlighted. Sometimes we’re open to discussions which may involve outsourcing other services to fill that gap in care if necessary.

Recently, we have been able to obtain funding for mental health support for over 18 years with the Rees Foundation, which is a well-established charity for care leavers.

We’ve also signed up for 100 memberships with the Ask Jan project. We are just about to launch this, and they can offer us a range of services including interpreters, which is crucial for UASC. In addition to interpreters, they offer one-to-one counselling sessions, which can be arranged within a few days. This means UASC don’t have to wait six months for a counselling session, instead they can set up an appointment within a week and access a 24/7 counselling helpline which goes directly to counsellors as opposed to triage. This cuts down the waiting process for them.

The service offers additional advice too, on subjects UASC would like guidance on from immigration to health concerns.  It’s a fantastic resource which we’re looking forward to having access to because of how much more help we can provide for UASC.

GE Insights: What have been the biggest challenges for establishing partnerships?

Matt: One of the biggest challenges is a lot of our partnerships are with the voluntary sector. Funding arrangements for the volunteer sector are quite fragile. In the past, there have been times where good services we’ve worked with have lost elements of their funding and their services with us then have to change.

[…] Staff turnover, both within our organisation and in external organisations, has had an impact on services too. We have been fortunate that Alex has worked on this for a while now to help establish our parternships and create a team that’s more resilient to our challenges.

GE Insights: What can other councils learn from your work with UASCs?

Other local authorities have been interested in the work we’re doing with UASCs and some have visited us to learn how we’re establishing partnerships across the city. Alex is receiving national recognition for the work she’s done in this field and has been awarded Children’s Social Worker of the Year.

Alex: I agree what’s vital is utilising and working with resources that we’ve already established and developing those key networks.

Just to add though, it’s about being flexible. This is, because of the changes in the world, circumstances and influx of some seekers always fluctuates but also being flexible ourselves to internal or partnership changes. As we said, a lot of grants change and funding changes, but keeping an eye out for other services that can help deliver support will help councils overcome these challenges is crucial. Councils need to ask services questions as they might have the scope to deliver services for UASC but just aren’t aware that the service that’s needed. An example of this is education and ESOL provision for UASC.

We have provisions in place to deliver this, but only certain places like colleges provide this. Delivering these services has been a challenge in Coventry as once classes meet maximum capacity, and cannot take any more pupils, there’s which have created a gap in education accessibility. To combat this, we approached other services and organisations to see if there was any way they could help. Even if it’s not something that we cannot access additional funding for, sometimes with the right information and understanding of needs, charities can apply for funding themselves to deliver that service.

GE Insights: How can local authorities work better with the third sector to provide support that’s financially sustainable?

Matt: I think we’ve covered this a little already. In some ways looking at the support we can provide for UASC based on Home Office funding is quite simple to understand as we have a budget and know what grants we are expecting from them. Local authorities then have to work out what services can be funded with the grants before understanding how partnerships can compliment and engance the services already provided.

One thing to keep in mind is that the third sector can bid for funding that isn’t available to local authorities. Some funding streams are only available to the voluntary sector and other funding is available if you work in partnership with them. As I said earlier, it’s about being creative with these partnerships.

The other important aspect of funding is simply not being afraid to ask organisations if there’s a service they could deliver. There are a lot of organisations that are keen to help and therefore approaching a variety of organisations can sometimes have positive results. Historically, partner organisations bid for money and then come to the council with the funding without consulting with us if there is a need for the service. Some of the services aren’t necessary but the connection is useful so we have tried to develop those partnerships.

One of our strongest partnerships is with the Positive Youth Foundation in Coventry, which is one of the largest youth organisations in the city. Often they consult with us on bids they can apply for, asking if there is any way the funding would help us deliver certain schemes for UASC. This is a great example of how to start those conversations and develop the right partnerships and relationships to deliver beneficial services. It’s not about organisations presenting ready-made solutions that might not be suitable for young people, instead what helps is having conversations about funding at the early stage of delivery so working partnerships can develop. These partnerships are not solely with organisations too, we involve volunteers and the young services users in the decision-making process to inform us of what they need.

GE Insights: How can authorities review their services to provide better support for UASC?

Matt: There is a range of ways authorities can do this but a big part of reviewing for us is that we’re always keen as an organisation to receive feedback. Whether that’s individual workers getting feedback through care planning and pathway plans, or the Coram Voice survey: ‘your life in care’ and ‘your life beyond care’. We seek feedback regularly to inform our service delivery plans going forward.

As an organisation, we’re keen to make strategic decisions that are informed by the voices of our children and young people. The most important thing is they feel the services are meeting their needs and we’re seeing that in terms of the outcomes from our services. We’ve got more young people in education, employment and training than a year ago, despite the pandemic. That is a real success, a sign that what we’re doing is working. We’ve got more young people in suitable accommodation too, which we’re measuring and reviewing regularly.

One of the reasons we brought in Alex and the specialist UASC team is to analyse our service delivery. Historically, our support for these young people was spread across the ThroughCare service but we realised, with some of their needs and the trauma they’d experienced, they needed a level of expertise that wasn’t being provided when care was spread across the service. As a result, we considered what other policies were doing so we could improve the support we were giving to these young people.

Authorities should always be open to changing their services and question what they are currently doing to identify how to improve their services.

Alex: Including the voices of the young people using our services is vital to providing the services to meet their needs. In my experience, teenagers are quite confident in sharing their opinion and voicing their concerns or issues with the services. It’s really important to take this feedback on board. Whether it’s through a home visit or other services, our workers need to listen to these issues and start exploring possible solutions. It’s very easy for these things to not get raised, we therefore need to encourage staff to raise them again and again for solutions to be found.

On some occasions, we have had direct feedback on how the improvements made to our services have had a positive impact on the person who originally raised the concerns. The positive ripple effect is then benefitting all UASC who enters care from that point onwards. Therefore, it is worthwhile taking the views and complaints raised by service users and acting on them as soon as possible to improve the services delivered for all UASC.

[1]British Red Cross,(2021) Refugee facts and figures

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In 2020 around 43% of those seeking asylum in the UK were women and children. Of these, 8% were children who arrived in the country without a parent or guardian. We spoke to Coventry City Council, about they are working with local partners to provide more holistic care for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

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