By Fae Mira Gerlach, Youth Welfare Project Manager
Our work on Youth Welfare Officers has recently been recognised through the shortlisting for the Equality, Access Rights category of the Community Integration Awards. Being shortlisted for this award is not just an honour for us at RRE but also extremely helpful to raise the Youth Welfare Officer project profile, showing the UK Government that the idea is widely supported and much-needed.
The project is a step in the right direction to ensure that the right to equality, justice, and wellbeing for young newcomers in UK society is safeguarded. Indeed we hope that this is just the beginning of a wider YWO scheme that can start to erode some of the most harmful effects of the ‘hostile environment’.
By way of background, we know from our prior research and community engagement that young adult asylum seekers aged 18-25 in the UK have survived unimaginable experiences within their countries of origin and/or during their long and treacherous journeys. Many left their homes as children and spent their formative years in traumatic or exploitative situations.
However, once they reach the UK, many are left isolated and alone without adequate guidance and support in asylum accommodation. This compounds existing trauma, and many suffer from severe mental health issues. We introduced a campaign for Youth Welfare Officers in 2019 to meet this need, and since then, we have been making great strides alongside our partners.
In 2019, we mobilised around 70 MPs and NGOs to support our call for Youth Welfare Officers. In 2020, we saw a breakthrough moment of this campaign, with the first YWO role being rolled out in Birmingham, hosted by the Refugee Council.
Our organisation, alongside the Refugee Council, Young Roots, Migrant Help and individual experts also formed a steering committee which met throughout 2020 to oversee the work of the YWO and to plan for the implementation of the second role in London, to be hosted by Young Roots. Broadly, the steering committee’s aims are to:
(a) ensure that the programme remains true to the original vision of the YWO, which was born out of a veritable need identified by groups working directly with young people on the ‘frontlines’ of UK’s asylum system;
(b) monitor and evaluate the impact of the YWO pilot scheme to develop a replicable model of best practice;
(c) develop strategic communications and advocacy around the pilot model in order to encourage relevant stakeholders to commit to a scaled-up programme over time.
Towards the end of last year, RRE also participated in a large conference organised by EuroChild as part of its CarePath project aimed at calling for adequate support for care leavers. During this event, we highlighted the UK Youth Welfare Officer model and proposed it as a potential solution in other European countries as well.
Within the very challenging context of Covid-19, we also asked other participants whether they had any useful advice to share on how to best combine online and in-person support, specifically in the context of trauma-informed work with asylum-seeking care leavers.
Being shortlisted alongside so many amazing projects making bold, positive change happen across the UK, we feel just the more encouraged to reigniting the YWO campaign in 2021 and continuing our work for a UK asylum system that is centred around uncompromised respect for human rights and authentic care for the health and wellbeing of asylum-seeking people.
Keep watching this place.