When I began volunteering for the Refugee Council I had a vague
idea of what it would be like to visit young people in detention. I
pictured clinical rooms and prison walls and I wasn't far off.
The training I was given when I started my role as Volunteer
Children's Adviser helped me to understand what the young people have experienced up to that point. Where they came from, why they came to the UK and why they were in detention. It is not until you visit detention that the people inside really become people to you. They are scared, angry and weary and this can be emotionally draining as their Adviser.
I work on the age dispute team which is part of the Children's
Section. We support children who have been detained as adults but we believe to be children. Some don't have the correct documentation (as so few refugees do), some have been told to lie, others simply use a different calendar or look older than their teenage years.
Our statistics from 2012 show that the longest stay in detention
for an age disputed young person was 161 days. While I could never imagine the effects of this length of time on one's spirits, I find it important to bear this in mind when visiting clients so that I am better able to understand what they're feeling.
The situation is not always bleak, though. Getting a phone call to say that a client has been released or they have been accepted as a child has such an uplifting effect and reinforces why I volunteer with the Refugee Council. These positive aspects of the job are as frequent as the downfalls but you need to be prepared for both.