Balancing vulnerability and agency: An irreconcilable dichotomy for social workers working with migrant young people in the UK

The study is available here.
As practitioners we know that migrant young people face significant difficulties in securing the support they need from service providers. Many struggle to convince social workers that they are under 18 while others don’t receive all the services and support they are entitled to. Migrant young people are often expected to comply with expectations that, as “unaccompanied asylum seeking children” (the term preferred and used by Children’s Services in the UK) are vulnerable. These expectations often translate into professionals anticipating particular behaviours including showing deference and crying. When young people don’t conform they are viewed with suspiscion and some say they have been threatened with the removal of support.
This study invited 21 young refugees aged 16 to 21 to take part in focus groups and follow-up interviews about their experiences of accessing support.
The findings revealed that migrant young people may deliberately conform to expectations about vulnerability in order to benefit from greater support from service providers. In doing so, social workers may fail to consider these young people’s capabilities and understand the different and varying circumstances and relationships in which migrant young people may be vulnerable. The study suggests that group work may be an effective strategy to engage migrant young people to overcome this.

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