Our Family Rights Service provides parents and children with guidance and support at every step in their asylum journey. Service Manager, Esther Muchena, tells us more about this new approach to helping refugee families settle into life in Scotland.

Tell us a bit more about the Family Rights Service

It’s a three-year pilot project which I truly believe will make a positive difference to people’s lives. We’ll be collaborating closely with other organisations in the sector so that we can identify any gaps in welfare and support, then work together to fill those gaps.

I’m really looking forward to working with new partners and thinking about things differently. This is an exciting opportunity to strip everything back and look at things from the perspective of the families who are going through the process.

This new approach is going to help us learn a lot more about what people experience when they go through the asylum system. It will help us adapt and change the way we do things so we can better support people as they start new lives in Scotland.

Who is this service for?

The project is for newly arrived asylum-seeking families with children aged 0-18 years. That includes pregnant women and single parents too. Over the next three years, we plan to work with 200 families.

We want to provide these families with the right information and advice as soon as they arrive in Scotland, so we can help them navigate the complex asylum system and hopefully prevent some of the usual problems from arising.

What are some of the challenges that families face when going through the asylum system?

There are so many challenges. People in the asylum system often don’t know what is happening to them. They don’t understand the legal processes and they don’t know how to engage with their lawyers. They’re not sure how to go about gathering the evidence they need to present to the Home Office to support their case.

When people arrive in Scotland, they are not aware of the available services – like healthcare, education, welfare, transport, and food banks – and they don’t know how to access those services.

Digital exclusion became really apparent during Covid-19. Families don’t have digital devices like laptops, or smartphones and can’t afford data packages. This makes it impossible for them to access vital online services and means that children aren’t able to do their school work from home.

High levels of poverty and trauma within asylum-seeking communities is also a big issue. People are unable to work while they are waiting for their asylum claim to be processed. But the money that families are given to live on is not enough. They’re caught in a cycle of perpetual poverty.

Most of the people we work with have experienced high levels of trauma – things like conflict, persecution, torture, trafficking, or sexual violence. To successfully claim asylum, you have to tell the Home Office your story – and explain why you are at risk – in a believable way. When you’re traumatised and are experiencing mental health issues, you might struggle to talk about what has happened to you and find it difficult to remember events. This can mean that your asylum claim is less likely to succeed.

One of the biggest problems is the long waiting time for asylum decisions. Even before Covid, families often had to wait over 18 months to hear about their claim. Now it is much worse. When you have to wait and wait without knowing what’s happening, that can have an impact on people’s mental health. Any parent just wants their kids to thrive but families in the asylum system are stuck. Their lives are on standstill until they get a decision.

What support does the Family Rights Service Provide?

When families are referred to the service, they will be assigned a case manager to help them navigate the complex asylum system. The case managers will support families through every step in the asylum process, from start to finish. This includes everything from housing and healthcare to schooling, making connections in their local community, and legal support.

Case managers will explain what is happening at each stage in the asylum process. They’ll join families at meetings with service providers and ensure that their clients understand the options open to them. They will also be working a lot more closely with lawyers to make sure that their clients understand the legal process.

How is this approach different from what we were doing before?

We’re introducing a case management model – which means each family will receive one-on-one support from a single adviser, working closely with legal partners. This will make it easier to build trust and ensure that each family is getting the specialist support they need. We hope that giving each family a case manager, to help them join the dots, will improve their experience of the asylum system and lead to more positive decisions.

This project supports all newly arrived families with children under 18. Our previous Family Keywork Service was only for families with children aged 0-8. We know that older kids and young people also face a lot of challenges and they need help too. There hasn’t been much research on older children from refugee families. This new approach is an exciting opportunity to learn more about their needs and how we can support them.

What do you hope to achieve as a result of this project?

In the short term, we want to do everything we can to support these 200 families as they go through the asylum system and secure good outcomes for them and their children.

This is very much a collaborative project. We’ll be working closely with everyone from healthcare providers, social workers and legal partners to local councils and Home Office contractors. By working together in this way, we’ll be able to identify any gaps that exist in the system and bridge those gaps. It’s all about learning from each other and improving asylum and welfare outcomes for people.

In the longer term, we hope that what we learn over the course of this pilot project will help to shape the way the sector works with asylum-seeking families in Scotland. We’d like to better involve the families we’re working with. We want to see the asylum system through their eyes and gain a greater understanding of their experiences.

Our ultimate goal is to have an asylum process for Scotland that is sustainable and well-resourced. Although this pilot focuses on families, we hope this model of working can be applied to all people in the asylum process, including individuals. We want to be able to reduce poverty, increase access to justice and improve asylum and welfare outcomes for everyone seeking safety in Scotland.

How can families access the service?

Our new Family Rights Service will be fully up and running in the New Year. Find out more here.

The Family Rights Service is delivered by Scottish Refugee Council in partnership with Latta & Co and JustRight Scotland. It is funded by Justice Together, The Robertson Trust, and Glasgow City Council.

Laura Delaney
Author: Laura Delaney