When the agenda for this meeting was being planned, it was hoped that a party of young people would attend the start of the meeting to speak about their experiences of being in care, and it is still hoped that this can be arranged. However, at the time of publishing this agenda, it has not proved possible yet to confirm a visit. A revised agenda will be published if there is any change to announce.
A party of social workers from the North Kent Children in Care service, Rodica Cobarzan (Service Manager), Jade Sanghera (Social Worker) and Phil Khumalo (Social Work Assistant), and two young unaccompanied asylum seekers, M (aged 18) and R (aged 11), were present at the invitation of the Panel.
1. The Chairman welcomed M and R to the meeting and hoped they had enjoyed visiting County Hall and learning about its history and that of the neighbouring prison.
2. M and R were asked if they were well looked after in care and both said they were. M said he had been in the UK for four years, having come from Eritrea, and had been very well looked after during that time. He had lived in shared housing briefly, and foster care, and was now living at a YMCA. He said he had ‘found his family’, referring to the team who supported him. R was asked if he enjoyed school and he said that he did. He had been in the UK for just over one year, having arrived in November 2016 from India.
3. Phil and Rodica showed the Panel the Silver ‘Social Worker of the Year’ award which the team had won for their work with UASC, having submitted evidence of their work and been shortlisted in the ‘Creative Social Work’ category. This win was a great achievement for them and they were very proud of the award. It had raised the profile of the work that UASC social workers were doing, and they were proud to showcase their work to help UASC settle into new lives in the UK and gain an education and independence. The Panel congratulated the team on their success in winning the award.
4. Rodica said the trauma that some of the young people had experienced was hard to put into words and working with them to help them learn new skills and grow in confidence was immensely rewarding and satisfying. They were running work groups to teach young people skills such as cooking, food hygiene and personal and home safety. Seeing young people learn to cook a meal together and then share that meal with the group was immensely rewarding. Working with UASC brought to light the small issues which simply did not arise with civilian children but which needed careful thought when working with UASC. UASC also needed different support and more support than civilian children. A social worker was more likely to get a call from a UASC at the weekend, seeking support for something which had happened, perhaps something quite small, as they had no-one else to turn to for support.
5. M said he felt close to the social worker, Michael, who had supported him over the years and called him ‘Dad’ as he felt he was a father to him. Michael was the only family M had and he would always call him whenever he needed support or advice. He spoke about everything to Michael and valued him highly. Since he had reached 18, the leaving care service had treated him as an adult, and he now had a small flat with his own kitchen. He was attending college, had a job and enjoyed playing football. These achievements had been as a result of the work of the UASC team.
6. R said he had worked with Jade on his life story, and Jade had cooked Indian food with him, which he had enjoyed. He had come to the UK in very difficult circumstances and had lost track of his father during the journey. With Jade’s help he had found his old school online, had been able to trace his mother and was hoping to find his father as well. After having an emergency placement with foster carers when he had first arrived in the UK, he had lived with the same foster carers since and with them he was learning good English and was working well at school.
7. M added that, before living independently, he had lived in supported lodgings with foster carers and had received very good care there.
8. Rodica and Phil told the Panel that the team had undertaken its group work since 2015/16 and had worked with many UASC in that time. Work had focussed on teaching young people how to live in the UK, including how to manage money, personal and online safety and living in a community. Work group sessions were held once a week in the evenings, and each group worked in its own way by its individual rules, which young people set themselves. Phil showed the Panel the schedule of sessions and the subjects which would be followed, for example, one week a visit from a community liaison officer or a visit to a fire station and the next week a talk on substance misuse. Sessions also included liaison with local youth services and sporting activities, at which M in particular had excelled. After each session the group would prepare a meal together. Ten young people were able to work together in the kitchen at one time and would learn budgeting skills and food hygiene while cooking. He undertook to leave a copy of the schedule and photos of the group sessions with the DSO for circulation to the Panel.
9. M thanked the social work team for the support they had given him and said that, as a result of their support and encouragement, he had been able to achieve his dream of playing football in a local team. His social worker Michael had helped him to find a coach who had taught him how to train and build up his physique. At 16, he had been playing football locally and had been approached by a scout to play football for the local league team. Michael encouraged him to take up this opportunity and develop his football skills and he had been placed in the first team. Michael had taught him to protect himself and stand up for himself when dealing with people, and had signed for him when he wanted to join the team as an under-18. The social workers he had met as an UASC had all been good people and had helped him with getting into college and learning to use a computer for study, which had been difficult at first and was not something he enjoyed. When he had come to the UK he knew ‘nothing’ and spoke no English, and had to learn the names of everything. Michael had helped him build his confidence, particularly to take up the place on the football team, and he was touched by the support and commitment he had given him. By being promoted into the first team he had achieved his dream. Michael had told him he would still look after him once he reached 18.
10. Rodica said that work with UASC brought the team much satisfaction and that the UASC they had worked with had given them back just as much in return. They had helped young people to achieve and to build confidence and it was so rewarding to hear M and R talk to the Panel about their lives.
11. The Panel thanked M and R very much for attending and congratulated them on their achievements. The Chairman added that she was very proud of M and R and of the social work team which had supported them so well.