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Meet our Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children Team

Coronavirus update

Subject to the ongoing situation, it's essential that we continue recruiting safely. Therefore, interviews and communication will be virtual wherever possible and this will be communicated to you directly by the hiring manager.

Please also expect that advert closing dates and interview dates may change as required. We still continue to welcome applications for our current roles and wish you the best of luck with your application.

We would welcome applications especially for our most critical roles to ensure we're supporting our residents

Meet some of our Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children Team, and find out about their jobs and the type of work they're involved in.

You'll also learn more about the benefits of working with Surrey County Council and the sort of people we're looking for.

Vrushali Pendharkar, Service Manager, Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children's Team

This is a new team, why is it being set up in Surrey now?

"Not all local authorities across the UK will have a high proportion of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, but in Surrey the numbers have been growing. There are several different factors which have contributed to this. What we have found of late is that the opening of a new service station on the M25, has meant that children who have travelled into the country in lorries, have been left at the services. So, that's one reason why in the last few years Surrey has seen an increase in unaccompanied asylum-seeking children needing our care and support.

"So, if you're a social worker and are interested in working with unaccompanied asylum seeking children, Surrey is one of the few places in the country where you can specialise in this work. Not all local authorities have specialist teams working with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children like we do. Surrey is one of the very few local authorities who have decided to create this specialist team, and we are creating a specialist team not only for children under 18 but also for when these children then become 18 and are eligible for Care Leavers Service. Our specialist UASC Care Leavers Service means we are able to support children as they become young adults and move into the adult world."

What kinds of issues do unaccompanied asylum-seeking children face?

"In many ways, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children face similar experiences to all children who come into care. They may have experiences of trauma, of abuse. But in addition to that, we have children who are coming from different countries and that creates its own challenges. These children come to the UK primarily because of issues in their country of origin, and they may have been exposed to or directly involved in conflict or war. And that creates its own trauma. Not only that, but travelling from a country of origin to the UK is not easy. It's not like taking a flight and arriving at the airport, it may mean travelling through lorries, travelling through different countries, and sometimes staying in some countries for periods of time. All of this leaves its mark on children, and our social work team is there to support them.

"For many children the journey is a few years – it might take two years, three years – for a child to travel from their country of origin to the UK and passing through several countries. For example, we are working with a child who had been living on the streets for four months in a country in Europe along the journey before they came to the UK. So, when they arrive in the UK, we are working with children who have gone through all these experiences, then have come to a country where the culture is very different. They will be in supported lodgings or in foster care, but the culture is very different, the education system is very different, languages are different. And then, the feeling of isolation will be very high. They're struggling to cope with the trauma, and they're trying to do this without any family being there for them. Some of them will have limited contact with their family over the phone; many will not have any contact with their families at all.

"So, we need social workers who are very competent, very sensitive to the experiences of the children, and who are able to work closely with these children to help them settle in the UK."

How can social workers make a different to these children's lives?

"What I think can be particularly rewarding for social workers supporting these children is that you have the opportunity to work closely with a child and see them through their whole journey. You are by their side from the time they come to the UK, having experienced significant trauma, and then to see the outcome after a few years. It is so rewarding to see and be part of that journey with a child.

"For example, we had a child who came from Guinea in Africa. He was 16 when he came to the UK, he had travelled through Libya, through a few countries in Europe; had no friends when he arrived, spoke limited English and his mental health was very fragile. He was a very isolated child, and because of all these vulnerabilities, he was also at risk of being exploited here in the UK.
"When we started working with him we supported him in living in the supported accommodation, we made a referral to the National Referral Mechanism to assess whether he was vulnerable to or a victim of trafficking or modern day slavery, worked with CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), and also started tuition for him in Spanish and in French. He then did his A Levels in French and Spanish; he took GCSEs in English and Maths, and our social workers supported him throughout. He is very aspirational; he wanted to go to university, have higher education. So, the social workers supported him to complete a Level 2 course in Travel and Tourism, and today he has applied to universities and has offers from five universities to study Business and Entrepreneurship.

"So, it's seeing a part of this child's journey from an isolated and vulnerable 16-year-old, to becoming a confident 19-year-old who has already achieved so much. Seeing his journey, being with the child on this journey, and enabling this to happen is a very rich experience for social workers, and very rewarding.

What are the progression opportunities like for social workers joining the team?

"Like all social workers in Surrey, social workers in the unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have a lot of learning and development opportunities, including training in motivation interviewing, doing age assessments, and a range of other skills. We also have very good links with our partner agencies and our academy offers training to our partners, so the team around the child is on the same page when we are working towards good outcomes for our children. We have a dedicated education support worker in Virtual School, a dedicated CAMHS worker in the Care Leavers Service, and a dedicated Fostering Support group working with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

"Within the unaccompanied asylum-seeking children team we have particularly good links to solicitors and barristers who specialise in working in this area of practice. So, it's a significant learning opportunity for our social workers involved in those discussions. For example, when I was on a case where we were particularly worried that the children were trafficked, I had meetings with legal counsel about the case and learnt a lot about UK wide and international legislation. In addition to the broad range of training for children in care, there is Age Assessment training being arranged, we have good links with the South East Strategic Partnership for Migration who also offer free training and we sometimes commission more bespoke training."

What would you say to someone considering joining the UASC team in Surrey?

"We are a very welcoming service, and Surrey is a very welcoming local authority. We have supportive leadership, supportive management and friendly colleagues. Our senior managers and line managers are available and accessible to have discussions and reflect on our work with children. I can actually see for myself how the vision translates into action for children, how we work so well with partners. Our caseloads are manageable, so social workers can have the time to do high quality work with the children. And that is what we all know actually makes the difference. We hope that by staffing the teams with social workers really interested in this area of work we can improve knowledge, practice and our overall service to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children."