A new evaluation has found that the Scottish Guardianship Service offers a life-line for asylum-seeking children who arrive alone, with no family.

Since its launch in 2010, the service has supported over 750 extremely vulnerable young people, from 44 nationalities, speaking 46 different languages.

The average age of children referred to the service is 15. Nearly 60% of these young people show signs of trafficking or exploitation.

Service Manager, Catriona MacSween, answered some of our questions about the Scottish Guardianship Service. You can read our Q&A with her here.

What is the Scottish Guardianship Service?

Run by Scottish Refugee Council in partnership with Aberlour, The Scottish Guardianship Service supports unaccompanied minors arriving in Scotland in search of safety.

Many of the young people we work with are survivors of human trafficking or have fled countries torn apart by war. They arrive in Scotland with no friends or family to take care of them and are faced with welfare, immigration and criminal justice systems that are complex, frightening and difficult to understand.

Guardians offer emotional support, explain what is happening and help the young people to make informed decisions about their futures. The service also runs art and cookery workshops, sports and outdoor activities, giving young people an opportunity to have fun, make friends and try new things.

We caught up with Participation Officer, Stefan Smith, to find out how the Scottish Guardianship Service is giving young people a voice. Read more here. 

Making a difference

The evaluation finds that all aspects of the Guardianship service benefit young people, but four key factors were found to have the biggest positive impact.

  1. Helping young people to make sense of the complex asylum and legal systems they face
  2. Gathering and providing information for lawyers, social workers, healthcare professionals, police and Home Office officials
  3. Working with young people to help them develop statements to support their asylum claims
  4. Providing young people with comfort, advice and emotional support.
Helping young people to understand and engage with the asylum process

Young people claiming asylum face waits of between 7 months and 6 years for a decision from the Home Office.

Guardians support them through this difficult process by:

  • Accompanying them to meetings with lawyers and Home Office interviews
  • Helping them to tell their stories – which are often traumatic and difficult to talk about – and gather evidence to support their claims
  • Making sure they have specialist support to help them deal with trauma
  • Speaking on their behalf
  • Helping them to appeal if their claim for asylum or humanitarian protection is rejected
  • Providing companionship, guidance and emotional support
Ensuring young people who have experienced trafficking are properly supported

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which is used in the UK to identify and support people who have experienced trafficking, is even more complex and emotionally taxing than the asylum system.

Police interviews can be extremely frightening and upsetting for vulnerable young people who have experienced sexual exploitation or have been forced by their traffickers to take part in illegal activity, like growing cannabis.

Some young people do not realise that they have experienced trafficking. Guardians take steps to:

  • Help young people recognise if they have been trafficked or exploited
  • Explain how the asylum system and NRM process differ and how the two might overlap
  • Help young people to tell their difficult stories and gather evidence to support their claims
  • Keep young people safe, offer emotional support and help them cope with trauma

Guardians also support social workers to help them spot the signs of trafficking and refer young people to the NRM.

A positive influence on the work of immigration lawyers in Scotland

Thanks to the knowledge and expertise that Guardians bring to the process, lawyers have adopted a more child-friendly approach:

  • Arranging appointments at the Guardianship offices, so young people can meet lawyers in an environment where they feel comfortable
  • Taking regular breaks during appointments and working at the pace of the young people
  • Simplifying technical language to make things more accessible
  • Recognising emotional queues and the importance of what remains unspoken, as well as what is said
  • Leaving space for young people to de-brief with Guardians at the end of appointments

Guardians also help immigration lawyers to work more efficiently and effectively by:

  • Making sure that young people don’t miss their appointments
  • Gathering evidence to support young people’s claims
  • Preparing young people for meetings and interviews
The 10 Cs

The evaluation identified key benefits of the Scottish Guardianship Service, which they have called the 10 Cs.

Young people benefit from the Guardians’ ability to connect and commit to them. Guardians also help to provide clarity and coherence for lawyers, social workers and other stakeholders working with the young people. By collaborating with young people and other professions, Guardians help everyone involved to navigate the complexity while providing companionship for young people. They also bring credibility by support young people to give accounts of their experiences, which served as credible evidence for decision-makers. Immigration lawyers report that support from Guardians helps increase their capacity to spend more time on the legal aspects of the work. Finally, Guardians provide continuity for young people and stakeholders.

Children’s Policy Officer for Scottish Refugee Council, Jillian McBride said: “We are delighted that the Scottish Guardianship Service has received such a glowing evaluation.  The current asylum determination and national referral mechanism processes, can cause additional trauma to children who have already been through far too much.  As a former Guardian, the 10 C’s in particular, made my heart sing.  The 10C’s both encapsulate the essence of Guardianship and illustrate the trauma-informed way in which Guardians work.”

Thanks to the Scottish Guardianship Service, hundreds of vulnerable young people who have experienced terrible trauma now have a bright future ahead of them.

Click here to read An evaluation of the Scottish Guardianship Service: The work of Guardians within asylum determination and National Referral Mechanism process in full 
The Scottish Guardianship Service is made possible thanks to funding from the Scottish Government and the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund.
Rachel Lamb
Author: Rachel Lamb