A guest post by Gargie Ahmad, intern at Coram.
Akram* was 17 when he was burgled. He was alone, new to the UK, still learning English, and his social worker wasn’t helping him to replace the stolen goods. In frustration, he called a helpline run by advocacy organisation Coram Voice, who helped him to communicate his worries to children’s services.
The burglary, however, was only the beginning. Akram had little information about where he would be living when he turned 18, and – disastrously – his claim for asylum had been refused due to his representation. This time Akram knew where to turn. An advocate from Coram Voice helped him to raise a complaint with the local authority, ensured his views on where he would be living as a care leaver were taken into account. Coram Voice also worked in collaboration with Coram’s Migrant Children Project, finding him a better asylum solicitor, who helped him to get refugee status.
“Before having an advocate I was really confused… Seriously; I had nowhere to get help: My key worker and social worker were friends and they didn’t believe I got robbed. It helped me a lot with how to deal with social services and my rights: The things they should do for me but didn’t do, and how to deal with problems and get help” (Akram, care leaver)
Akram’s situation at 19 is unrecognisable from his situation at 17, and none of these gains would have been possible without his advocate. He learnt to speak up in meetings by watching how his advocate behaved, saying that “I learnt how to speak with people – find reasons and find rights”.
All children in care have a right to have their wishes and feelings heard when decisions about their futures are being made. This right is enshrined in international law in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in domestic law through the Children Act 1989.
However, the voices of children and young people can and should be heard more broadly, so that their experiences are built upon to better the systems that exist to help them.
At Coram, we are firm believers in supporting young people who have first-hand experience of the system to make their voices heard, and inform the changes needed to support the people that need it the most. Children and young people should have a say in the decisions that affect their lives, and shape the policies and programmes that set out to support them. Our work with migrant children and young people is gathering more momentum in this direction.
Young Citizens is a new youth voluntary programme at Coram. With funding support from The Queen’s Trust, Young Citizens seeks to build a network across the UK that will foster positive outcomes for migrant children and young people. Through research, workshops, and advocacy, Young Citizens will work with and from the experiences of participants, who are young migrants themselves, to tackle issues, increase social cohesion, and to lead change and empower further migrant children and young people in the UK. Passionate young people, aged between 16-25 years old, who have made a life for themselves in the UK will be shaping projects to support and inspire other migrant children and young people who want to do the same.
Young Citizens is part of a range of new programmes that are seeking to get more active participation on issues affecting young migrants, by young migrants. At Coram Children’s Legal Centre, the Migrant Children’s Project helps non-immigration specialist professionals to understand the rights and entitlements of migrant children and young people through training and workshops. We are now working with Youth Rights Trainers to co-deliver our existing courses, and working together to develop new ones. Youth Rights Trainers are individuals who are young migrants themselves, who want to make a difference and who bring the expertise of life experience – in particular, experience of the immigration system – to their role. These young people are at the forefront of using their voice to raise awareness around the issues that have affected them, and are best placed to inspire effective change.
Voices writing competition
Coram Voice, the children’s rights and advocacy organisation, has also launched Voices, a writing competition for young people in care or care leavers.
To continue to break stigma and showcase talent, Voices aims to promote a positive image of care-experienced and young migrant people. This year’s theme is new beginnings, and we have included a special New to the UK award for young migrant children in care or care leavers. This is a direct way to listen to young people around the country about the issues that affect them deeply, and an opportunity to channel this learning into positive change going forwards – and be creative about it along the way.
The new projects and on-going work by the team at Coram, promoting the rights of all refugee and migrant children, young people and families, works to ensure that they receive the protection and support they need whether they are unaccompanied or in a family. Too often, their experiences are not reflected in the policy that affects them, and are not accounted for in the impacts of changes such as LASPO. Through initiatives like the above, and beyond, it is imperative that children and young people’s voices are heard, and channelled into making the changes that are needed for them.
Entries to Voices can be submitted online here from 9 January until 21 February, can be in any written style including poems, short stories or newspaper articles, with a 500 word limit.
Register now to join the Young Citizens network, and come along to our Taster Day on 11th February if you’d like to participate, or sign up to our email newsletter to find out more about Young Citizens, Migrant Children’s Project, and our wider work at Coram.
* Some details have been changed to preserve anonymity
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