Connections are key: the importance of relationship-based practice in supporting refugees and asylum seekers

23 June 2022

Topic: International
Author: Lorraine Ward

Lorraine Ward is a social worker who has worked with the children and families social work department in Glasgow for over 25 years. Lorraine started work within the Asylum and Roma team of Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership in 2017 and initiated the peer mentoring programme – New Young Peers Scotland – for unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people soon after. During Refugee Week, Lorraine writes about why connections are key in helping young asylum seekers and refugees to build happy, fulfilling lives in their new countries.

I am a social worker in Glasgow and for the past five years I have worked with young people who are separated/unaccompanied asylum seekers. Before that I was a volunteer working with young asylum seekers in a participation group within the Scottish Guardianship Service.

I have been involved in the Drawing Together research project, led by the University of Bedfordshire, in partnership with three research centres, including CELCIS, in Scotland, Norway and Finland, from early in its inception, helping to identify young refugees in Scotland as possible participants. I am also part of the Glasgow steering/consulting group for the project. The steering group is made up of people from different organisations, currently involved in work with asylum seeking young people. It is a vehicle for updating on the progress and findings of the project, and also aims to assist in any operational challenges and hopes to see how themes emerging from the research can influence policy.

Relationship-based approaches are key

In thinking about my work with young asylum seekers and refugees as a social worker and as co-facilitator for a peer mentoring group, New Young Peers Scotland, I can reflect on what I have learned from the young people we work with. For example, I have come to understand that integration is multi-layered. Young asylum seekers and refugees must often learn a new language, adjust to different cultural norms, navigate an asylum process, all as young adults. I have also come to recognise that refugees and people seeking asylum want to contribute and to be effective citizens in their new home country. Their lives have been disrupted, so understandably they need help to continue to re-build them. In my experience, asylum seekers and refugees do this more successfully when they have developed secure relationships and support networks in their new country.

I see building peer, community, and support connections as one of the key parts of my role as a social worker. Creating opportunities for young people to make friends, maintain their cultural/religious/sexual identity, and to grow beyond that so they can navigate and contribute in their lives as New Scots.

From my experience, home is not just a geographical location. Instead, it is where your life journey may start. How we feel about it along the way ebbs and flows, and our circumstances and choices shape and reshape us as we learn new things, meet new challenges, and achieve successes, and as we redefine our goals and aspirations.

I feel that for us all it is the people we meet who help us navigate these journeys, which is why I believe firmly in the importance of relationship-based practice.

Supporting and being supported

In coming to know many of the young people who are participating in the Drawing Together project I have seen them grow in confidence and feel more in charge of their lives. This is generated by supporting and being supported by their peers and valued people. The young people can bring their experiences, share their stories creatively, perhaps even playfully, all within the safety of trusted relationships that enable them to reflect on their past, feel grounded in their present and to explore their aspirations for the future. It is in this feeling of reciprocity, of being listened to, valued, and purposefully contributing to others, that I have seen the young people I work with thrive.

As a social worker, I have learned that enabling these young people to have spaces where they feel safe and valued by those around them provides the scaffolding for them to take their next steps towards living a happy and fulfilling life as effective citizens in Scotland their new home.


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