Asylum-seeking families have always faced an uphill struggle but lockdown is making life even harder. We caught up with Family Keywork Adviser, Anissa Thabet, to hear how she’s helping newly arrived parents and children settle into life in Scotland.
Tell us a bit about your job
I work with newly arrived asylum-seeking families with children aged 0-12 and pregnant women. My role is to support them to overcome the barriers they face in this new environment and help them understand and navigate the complexities of the asylum system.
Our service is family centred. Each support plan is holistic and is co-designed with families around their needs and priorities. These usually focus on the asylum process, housing, education, mental health, family activities, general well-being, poverty and health care.
How has Covid-19 affected your role?
First of all, I can’t see families in person. We used to do lots of home visits. Now most of my work happens over the phone and on WhatsApp. When you go to a person’s house and see their living situation, you get a sense of what’s going on and how they’re coping. You also get to interact with the children. It’s really difficult to do that when you’re speaking to parents over the phone.
It can also be more difficult to build trust with people when you don’t get to physically meet them. I’m supporting people with very complex needs and I know everything about them but I’ve never seen their faces. However, despite these challenges, I think we’ve adapted well. Families have continued to receive quality advice and support from us throughout the pandemic, and that is very positive.
How do you find working from home?
I enjoy the flexibility and being able to go for a run at lunchtime – I started running during the first lockdown and I love it so much! I do it three times a week.
The downside is that it’s hard to switch off from work when it’s happening in your personal space. I mostly work in my living room so I can’t just shut down my computer and walk away. My partner is also working from home, which is not always easy.
What has been the biggest challenge?
Losing that human connection which you get when you meet in person. We work with people who are in crisis and who already have very little support. Lockdown has increased that social isolation massively. In addition, there are families who arrived in Scotland during Covid and all they’ve known is lockdown. They’ve not been able to build any relationships and that is incredibly damaging. Just having a cup of tea with someone else can make a big difference. Not being able to come into the office and have that time where they feel like they’re really being listened to is very hard for people.
I think we’ve adapted really well. We’ve just kept on going despite all the difficulties and uncertainties. I have a lot of admiration for my colleagues. They’re so committed to what they’re doing and to the people we serve.
We’ve been working even more closely with other organisations across the city too. For example, if a family is diagnosed with Covid and they needed to self-isolate, we work with partner organisations to make sure they get food, medicines, and entertainment delivered to their homes. This has showed that we’re much more effective when we work together!
I guess lockdown has forced us to re-think the ways in which we interact with people. Being able to speak to us over the phone is not a bad arrangement for some families. They don’t have to spend any time or money traveling all the way into the city centre for meetings.
That’s one of the lessons I’ve taken from all of this: it’s good to be able to see people face to face but we don’t need that to happen for every meeting. The other lesson is that despite the pandemic, the lockdown, and the hostile environment, our clients continue to show huge doses of resilience and dignity. That has been extremely inspiring for me during this year.