Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children, Power Relationships and Oppression in Relation to Social Work

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Introduction

This essay explores how unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) are oppressed in the UK. An unaccompanied asylum seeking child is a person under the age of eighteen who has left their country of origin in order to seek refuge and is ‘separated from both parents and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom has responsibility to do so’ (UNHCR, 1994:121). They are therefore applying for asylum in their own right.

Discrimination is the process of identifying that someone is different and, due to this difference, treating them unfairly (Thompson, 2006). Xenoracism is discrimination that is aimed at people specifically because they are from a different country, and are therefore ‘strangers’ (Sivanandan, 2001:2). Oppression is the hardship faced by a group due to the dominance of another group and their discriminatory actions. There is often an imbalance of power between the groups, and the dominant group may ‘disregard the rights’ of the non-dominant group (Thompson, 2006:40). Refugees can be seen to face oppression in many aspects of society. This essay will first look at the role children’s services plays in the lives of UASC. The ways in which oppression of UASC in society can be caused by power relationships will then be covered, followed by specifically link this to the oppression faced by UASC in health, giving the perspectives of UASC. The essay will finally look how social work can attempt to reduce these oppressions.

UASC in Children’s Services

Unaccompanied asylum seeking children are the responsibility of the local authority (LA) to which they first present under the Children Act (1989) (Rutter, 2003). The Act states that local authorities must promote the wellbeing of all the children within their boundaries, and keep them safe. It reiterates the importance of assessing the child, and considering their wishes. The legal rights of UASC in regards to LA support are therefore identical to those of British children. The Audit Commission (2000), however, found that the standards of care given to UASCs were not to an equal level as those given to indigenous children. They found that many unaccompanied minors over the age of fifteen were not given full needs assessments. This led to many UASCs being supported under section 17 of the Act, rather than section 20. If a child is supported under section 20, the child is ‘looked after’, and is entitled to the full support of a social worker. They can be involved in choosing placements, and there is a duty to protect their welfare. Their designated social worker must create a care plan and visit regularly. If a child is supported under section 17, they may not get any services other than an allowance for food and accommodation. Section 17 is designed to support children where an adult is already looking after them (Dorling, 2009). The majority of unaccompanied children seeking asylum that are supported under section 17 of the Children Act are aged between 16 and 18. The Hillingdon judgement (2003) recommended that all unaccompanied asylum seekers were placed under section 20. In spite of this, as many as 10% of UASC are living independently. This is in comparison to 2% of indigenous children supported by the local authority (Hek, 2005). As well as being an oppression in itself this can also be seen to exacerbate the extent to which the child is oppressed in other areas of society.

Power and Discourse

Chase (2009) argues that Foucault’s (1975) theory of the panoptic mechanism can be used to explain why unaccompanied asylum seeking children do not disclose all information relevant both for their asylum claim and for an assessment of their needs under the Children Act 1989. The theory shows how structural and cultural systems are developed in ways that give power to the privileged over a less dominant group (Chase, 2009). This is done by scrutinising the asylum seekers’ lives, and therefore increasing knowledge. Chase argues...
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