Ground-breaking Scottish service for young refugees ‘a model for others’

A ground-breaking pilot project working with young asylum seekers in Scotland could be a model for others around the UK and Europe to follow, according to an independent evaluation.

The Scottish Guardianship Service, delivered in partnership between Aberlour Childcare Trust and Scottish Refugee Council, has helped support more than 100 unaccompanied young people going through the asylum system, some of whom are victims of trafficking.

The Scottish Guardianship Service provides each of the young people with a ‘guardian’ to help them navigate the asylum system and rebuild their lives in Scotland. The guardians act as independent advocates for the child, assisting them with everything from dealing with lawyers to helping them build social networks. It is the only service of its kind in the UK.

Funded by the Big Lottery Fund, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Scottish Government, the service has helped more than eighty young people who have been separated from their parents. The majority are 15-17 years old and come from 17 countries including Afghanistan, Vietnam, Nigeria and Iran.

The service has been highly praised in an independent evaluation, released today.

The evaluation found that almost all of the young people reported higher levels of wellbeing as the result of the support of their guardians.

Other professionals working with the young people also had high praise for the service, with social workers, lawyers and others recognising the importance of the support they received from the guardians.

The pilot’s success has been further recognised by the Scottish Government, which has agreed to fund the Scottish Guardianship Service for a further three years.

The praise for the project comes as the Joint Committee on Human Rights carries out an inquiry into the rights of unaccompanied young people in the UK.

Today (Friday, 26 April) professionals from around the UK will gather at a Learning Event in Glasgow to discuss the next steps for the Scottish Guardianship Service and the lessons that can be taken south of the border, where there is no system of guardianship in place.

They will be joined by Aileen Campbell, Minister for Young People and Children, who has given full support to the work of the Scottish Guardianship Service.

Aileen Campbell MSP said: “All children need to feel safe, but unaccompanied asylum seeking children in particular need to feel safe, cared for and listened to. The Scottish Guardianship Service gives them a voice and makes sure every young person involved understands and participates in decisions that affect them.

“The evidence from the initial pilot has shown that the service works and the continued funding will enable it to carry on helping improve the lives of unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people.”

John Wilkes, Chief Executive of Scottish Refugee Council, said: “Despite improvements, the asylum system is still not a child friendly one. It can be extremely difficult for traumatised young people, who find themselves alone and feeling their way in a strange culture, to navigate its complexities and deal with a host of professionals including lawyers, Home Office officials and social workers.

“Having a Guardian by their side and on their side not only makes a huge difference to the experience of that young person in Scotland. It also means they have a far better understanding of the asylum system. That greatly increases their chances of getting a fair hearing, and as a result better immigration decisions are made.”

“Scottish Refugee Council will work closely with Aberlour, the children’s charity, who will continue to deliver the service, providing our expert policy advice and critical support. By funding the Scottish Guardianship Service beyond its pilot stage, the Scottish Government is demonstrating the strong commitment it has made to children’s rights, including the rights and welfare of refugee children, and is leading the way for the rest of the UK.”

Jackie Hothersall, Director of Children and Family Services at Aberlour, said:  “We are pleased to see the benefits of having a Guardian reflected in the comments, views, thoughts and the voices of the children and young people we work with.  The direct impact of receiving help through the Scottish Guardianship Service is further evidenced by the outcomes revealed in the final evaluation report.

“The children and young people referred to us will have travelled long distances to get to the UK. They arrive without any family or friends; they are often confused and frightened and typically will not speak English.  Frequently they arrive in a state of trauma and shock because of the experiences they have fled.

“We are therefore delighted to have received the funding from the Scottish Government which will enable us to continue to work in partnership with the Scottish Refugee Council to deliver this much needed service.”

Case studies are included below.

Evaluation executive summary attached.


For more information contact Pauline Diamond, Media Officer, Scottish Refugee Council on 0141 223 7927/07850 930418 or email

Case studies


15-year-old Ali arrived in Glasgow and was looked after and accommodated by the local authority, having been separated from his mother on the journey to the UK.  He was placed in a children’s unit with staff who were very understanding and attentive to his needs.  He was very sad about the separation from his mum and was observed by all staff who worked with him to be extremely shy.  From the outset, the legal representative advised the social worker that there were no grounds for asylum but that the young person should go through the asylum determination process in order to be granted discretionary leave.  Shortly afterwards the young person was refused asylum but granted discretionary leave for 2½ years. Although the young person wanted to appeal against the refusal of asylum, his legal representative advised that there were no grounds to do so and refused to represent him. The social worker also discouraged an appeal. By contrast the Guardian supported the young person in his right to appeal against the refusal and, with the young person’s permission, sought a second legal opinion from a legal representative with particular experience of handling asylum claims made by children and young people. The legal representative agreed to represent the young person.  Although the appeal was very stressful for the young person the Guardian provided emotional support throughout the process. The appeal was successful and the young person was granted refugee status.


Patience was refused asylum on credibility grounds.  She claimed to be of an ethnic group that practiced female genital mutilation and had only ever lived in remote rural areas in her country of origin. The refusal letter from UKBA contended that she was from a member of an ethnic group that live in urban areas and do not practice female genital mutilation.  Patience was referred to the service by the legal representative. At the time she was displaying very obvious signs of trauma and was subsequently diagnosed with severe post- traumatic stress disorder. The Guardian invested considerable time in getting to know the young person and had to provide a more extensive orientation service than usual.  It was clear to the Guardian that the young person was unaccustomed to urban life of any kind: as she was unfamiliar and fearful of the urban environment including escalators, trains and traffic lights. When the young person appealed the refusal of her asylum claim, the Guardian was able to provide extensive evidence of the young person experiencing, and overcoming, barriers to disclosing her true identity as well as documenting experiences consistent with someone who came from a remote village rather than a city. The Guardian also provided a letter of support. Patience was granted refugee status.


Notes to editors

  1. 1.     The Scottish Guardianship Service pilot was the result of a unique collaboration that bridged the refugee and children’s sectors – a partnership between Scottish Refugee Council and Aberlour Child Care Trust. The funding too is innovative, with the Big Lottery Fund, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Scottish Government jointly financing and supporting the work. The result is a new service for vulnerable children and young people and the creation of new and productive working relationships amongst charities and funding organisations.

The service is run in partnership between Aberlour Childcare Trust and Scottish Refugee Council. The service works with children and young people who arrive in Scotland unaccompanied and separated from their families, including children who have been trafficked. Guardians support young people, helping them navigate the immigration and welfare processes, feel supported and empowered throughout the asylum process, access the help they need when they need it and help them to make informed decisions about their future. Children accessing the service come from 17 countries including Afghanistan(23.5%), Vietnam(16%), Nigeria(13.6%) and Iran(12.3%), and the majority(85%) were 15-17 years old. The service’s evaluation was based on data relating to the experiences of 81 young people accessing the service during the two-year period between 01/09/10 and 31/08/12. Among its findings, the report describes the service, unique in the UK, as ‘a model for others’.

  1. 2.     Around 2000 unaccompanied asylum seeking children apply for asylum in the UK every year.
  2. 3.     Scottish Refugee Council is an independent charity that provides advice and information to men, women and children seeking asylum and refugees living in Scotland. We also campaign for fair treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum and to raise awareness of refugee issues. It administers grants from Refugee Survival Trust to destitute refugees and asylum seekers. For more information:
  3. 4.     Aberlour Childcare Trust is the largest, solely Scottish, children's charity, providing help to over 6000 of Scotland's most vulnerable children and young people every year.