My name is Zoe, and I’m a Youth Worker at the Refugee Council.
It’s been a challenging year for all refugees in the UK. I work in Youth support at the Refugee Council and at the end of this difficult year I’d like to share some of the inspiring resilience and determination that I see in the young people I work with.
My role involves working with children who have been caught up in wars not of their making, where many have been forced to make dangerous journeys in the hope of finding some kind of safety. This means I’m aware there are certain barriers that refugee children face in the UK.
As well as language barriers and the emotional weight of the trauma they have experienced there are many cultural and customary differences here in the UK, that a child from Afghanistan or Eritrea might find confusing or frustrating. For example, it can be difficult for a child who has been looking after themselves for several years to then be entered into the British education system – so I help facilitate additional mentorship or specialist support, to help the child through this transition.
Through our Youth Connect and Youth Development projects we can help prepare children for life in the UK. This goes beyond education. We focus on a child’s social development and self-belief. The trips and activities we arrange for the children help teach them social skills they need to adapt to life in the UK, grow their confidence and increase their sense of belonging. Most importantly though, we support young people to feel safe.
Refugee children who attend the project can learn skills that help them to feel empowered to speak up for themselves.
As each child has different needs, my day is very varied; I could be doing a mix of casework, advocating for a child’s specific needs, working with local authorities, colleges, social workers and partners. I also seem to take young people to a lot of football matches, which they love!
There seems to be a lot of Crystal Palace and Arsenal fans among the group. I enjoy seeing them feeling relaxed; hanging out together and having fun can take their minds off of the experiences they have endured. We have regular 121’s where we offer advice and we finish each session with time to socialise. They are very competitive when it comes to games, particularly UNO!
Refugee children are in a system where they have been forced to grow up too quickly, therefore, having this space is so important, to help them feel like children again.
I feel proud that I have been able to build trust with the children I support, since working in the team. Because trust is what makes them feel comfortable to open up and share how they are feeling. We end up being like a family to them.
One challenge now is that there is a huge demand for our service across the UK. There are many children and young people, who urgently need our support. Which is why this winter, we are raising awareness of the issues refugee children are facing. Visit this page to learn more about our winter campaign, Believe, and how projects like Youth Connect support refugee children to believe in themselves again.
If you would like to donate to support our vital work, please click here. ■