Outreach support for UASC in West Kent

shutterstock_452938996The health assessment process for Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers (UASC LAC) looks at the general health of this group.  Young people in this group can have complex health needs, resulting from the experiences in their home country and their ‘journey’ to the UK.

We looked at the pathway for supporting the needs of UASC in terms of sexual health. Screening for blood-borne infections and sexually transmitted infections would ideally be offered as part of the LAC process for USAC arriving in Kent.  Sexual health questions would also be asked as part of the IHA. Local pathways should be followed for referrals into appropriate local Sexual Health Services.

As Sexual Health Outreach Nurses, we had been asked to support the UASC with Sexual Health provision in West Kent.  During the process, we realised that the young people had specific  learning needs which had to be addressed before any basic sexual health discussion could take place. We identified a lack of knowledge and understanding of the UK social and cultural norms by the young men. This was supported by further research into asylum seekers’ experiences in other parts of the country. There have also been reported incidences of inappropriate behaviour in the UK and other parts of Europe involving young asylum seeker males. The FPA document ‘Supporting Asylum Seekers’ identifies that the young people need ‘an opportunity to learn about the law and common cultural practices including behaviour towards women’. Our sessions are to help raise awareness and to give insight into how behaviours, such as whistling at women or following women could have a negative impact on relationships. These behaviours may be acceptable in their home country, but are not in the UK and can even result in a criminal offence.

Our aim was to provide information about cultural norms around relationships, behaviour towards girls and women and to look at the issue of consent and the law (on a basic level).

We provided a group-based discussion, with support from our Reception Centre colleagues, including up to five different interpreters. We gave the interpreters an introductory letter to explain our goals for the session (template available on UASC website), as they would play an integral part in the discussion.

A series of drawn and photographic scenarios were shown to the groups, which we used to facilitate a discussion with the young people. We initially made this in the format of a Powerpoint presentation, however the use of individual packs of scenarios was found to be more effective in the smaller group discussions.  Each small group was supported by an appropriate interpreter.

The images that we used included:

  • Picture of a lone woman walking at night
  • Picture of young people drinking alcohol having fun with friends
  • Young people in a public swimming pool (wearing bathing suits)

We were very keen to explore the young mens’ views and thoughts on the images and reassured them that there were no right or wrong answers.  We believe that this approach facilitated a more productive learning experience. It helped to challenge their preconceptions in an informal way and it also enabled us to gain a better understanding of their perspective. A good example of this was when a group was shown a photo of a solitary young woman walking along a dimly-lit street. A discussion ensued and concerns were raised for the young woman by the young men as they felt the woman should have been with a male family member to ‘look after her’. However, we told them that the young woman could just be going home from college or work and that her family would more than likely be aware of where she was. This we feel, gave the young men a different perspective. The group discussion enabled us to see that the young men’s experience of ‘chaperoning’ women, in their view is a loving and protective thing to do for a member of the family. Showing concern for a lone woman by trying to befriend her or escort her safely could be intimidating to the woman.

Demonstration of mutual respect in these discussions is, we believe, paramount to the work being of value.

Our session only lasts for an hour; the content is not exhaustive and is only meant to provide a starting point, to open the conversation and to provide a foundation to further learning opportunities.

Our vision would be that further sessions would include:

  • Consent and the Law
  • Healthy Relationships
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections
  • Contraception
  • Internet safety
  • FGM-attitudes and myths

Unaccompanied asylum seeker children have a right to access information about sexual health and the services that are available in the UK and this will provide the building blocks for them to be able to have positive and healthy relationships in the future.

RESOURCES AVAILABLE to download below, and from our Public Health page: