Working with separated children as a legal representative

A Guest Post by Farida Elfallah, an Associate Solicitor at JustRight Scotland, a legal human rights organisation.

At JustRight Scotland, through our Scottish Refugee and Migrant Centre, we provide a child-centred legal service for refugee and migrant children.  We have a collaboration with the Scottish Guardianship Service (SGS) to provide legal advice, support and advocacy for separated children seeking protection in Scotland. 

Legal Issues

We provide legal advice and representation on a range of legal issues, focusing on areas where refugee and migrant children may find it difficult to realise their rights, including:

  • Asylum/Immigration
  • We provide advice on the asylum process and represent children in asylum claims, appeals and in the higher courts. 
  • We also help children with immigration applications, including applications based on the Home Office policy on ‘Children in Care’.

  • Identification of victims of trafficking
  • We advise children on their rights if they have been referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) and help them to understand the decisions being made in that process. 

  • Age Assessment
  • Where a child’s age is in doubt and the local authority decides to carry out an age assessment, we provide advice on the process. If necessary, we also help children to challenge age assessment decisions in court.

  • Care entitlements
  • We provide advice on the rights and entitlements of children in local authority care and represent children in relevant legal processes if their rights are not being upheld. 

  • Criminal Injuries Compensation
  • We help children to apply for compensation if they have suffered a physical or psychological injury as a result of a crime of violence in the UK.  This can include victims of trafficking. 

As well as working directly with children and young people, we provide second-tier advice to professionals through our weekly advice line.  We also regularly deliver training on asylum/immigration, child trafficking, age assessment, and other issues relating to refugee and migrant children’s rights.

Impact of Covid-19

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, most of our client meetings took place in-person, in Glasgow or Edinburgh. However, our team were also experienced in working with children and young people across Scotland who, because of where they lived, could not regularly travel to meet with us. We had developed strategies to ensure that our legal service was accessible to them, and this included providing advice via video call and telephone, where appropriate. 

During the pandemic, like many other firms, we had to quickly adapt the way that we work to ensure the safety of our clients and staff. Thankfully, we were almost fully operational for remote working within 48 hours. Almost all of our appointments now take place via video call.  For the separated children and young people we were already working with, the transition has worked well. Scottish Guardianship Services and other advocacy support have liaised with our clients and their social workers, foster carers and residential care workers, to ensure that they have access to the devices, internet connection and confidential space required for remote legal appointments. They have also provided support to ensure that children and young people know how to use video conferencing technology safely and feel comfortable doing so. 

We have also continued to accept new referrals for children and young people throughout the pandemic. This has been an extremely difficult time for our young people; the pandemic has exacerbated the various disadvantages they already face in accessing their rights, including trauma, language difficulties and discrimination. Being there for them – and fighting harder than ever – has never been more important. Many of our young people we have now only met via video calls.  After a year of remote working, at times it still feels strange not to be able to meet each other in person, particularly when meeting new clients for the first time. It is harder for us to build a rapport and relationship of trust with the children and young people, which is a cornerstone of our practice. We are looking forward to welcoming children and young people to our office again in the future.

Farida Elfallah

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