The Baobab Centre is a non-residential therapeutic community that enables child and adolescent asylum seekers who have experienced organized violence, violation, exploitation, threats, rejection, loss and bereavement in their home communities and on their journeys into exile to thrive in the UK.
A young person's journey at Baobab
Individual and Group Psychotherapy
When violence erupts in communities, structures that protect children break down and expose them to abuse, corruption and loss. Baobab community members want to be like their peers, but often they feel different and uncomfortable, unable to share their true experiences for fear of rejection or of being overwhelmed.
S., a young person who's been coming to individual psychotherapy at Baobab, discusses why this is important for her in her life.
We provide individual psychotherapy, where personal difficulties are gradually explored. Our individual psychotherapists offer a regular, predictable space for the young people to try to understand thoughts and feelings, which can make them feel overwhelmed, out of control of their mind and without hope for their future. Our psychotherapists listen. They pay attention beyond the words that someone uses to what is being unconsciously communicated. Psychotherapy offers a way of exploring past experiences as well as thinking about current fears, difficulties and frustrations. Together we try to help the young people to get to know who they are, to strengthen their sense of identity and their hope for the future. In many cases, the psychotherapy we offer is a way of preventing suicide, serious mental health symptoms or long term mental illness. Every young person struggles with a strong wish to forget their past and a need to remember. This is one of the challenges of individual psychotherapy and one reason why it is a long, slow process. At Baobab our therapeutic approaches are very personal, so an approach that fits one young person may not be suitable for another.
At Baobab young survivors of various profound human rights abuses meet others with similar experiences of trauma, prolonged grief and changes of culture. In group psychotherapy young people may or may not be able to speak about their experiences, but all are encouraged to listen to their peers. Coping strategies and barriers to coping are discussed in the context of past and present, and hopes and fears for the future. The young people very slowly come to trust each other and recognise and acknowledge the diversity and different ways of coping that we all develop over time. Though trust takes a long time to develop in the course of the life of each group, the members become a huge source of influence and support for each other.
Regular Community Meetings:We hold 8 community meetings a year for Baobab's young people and staff. At the meetings, anyone can talk about any aspect of his or her experience of Baobab, or their lives outside the Centre. We encourage everyone to speak, to listen and to be heard. These meetings enable young people to explore their relationship with a community. They can learn to express and defend their own views without fear of violence and explore their place in a community after experiences of persecution, oppression and rejection in their home communities.
We also run a number of additional therapeutic activities. These include a mixture of regular events such as our fortnightly music workshops and philosophy discussion groups and Easter, Summer and half-term projects that take place during the school/college holidays when many of the young people who attend feel particularly isolated without the structure of college life.
In the summer, we offer the young people an opportunity to take part in a therapeutic residential retreat. This provides an important opportunity for intensive therapeutic group work while also helping to build self-care skills and facilitate learning about working as part of a team. We hold daily therapeutic groups using drama and story telling, music and physical activity. Meal preparation takes place in small groups which plan, prepare and share what they have cooked with everyone on the retreat. There are also plenty of opportunities each day for fun (swimming, climbing, etc) and outings to the local area.
Support through the Asylum Determination Processes:
We offer support throughout the long asylum determination processes of the Home Office’s United Kingdom Visas and Immigrations Department and we prepare specialist psychological and developmental reports for asylum hearings at the request of the solicitors of the young people who attend. In the UK young asylum seekers often endure uncertainty, compounded by challenges to their credibility that, for minors, comes at huge personal cost. It is significant that very few of the Baobab community members get asylum on initial application but a majority get asylum on appeal.
On arrival in the UK young asylum seekers and refugees are faced with complex asylum and social welfare systems. They have no experience or little knowledge of the support systems and resources to which they are entitled. We work with many young people from rural and developing communities who find huge difficulties in making sense of and navigating through the complex systems with which they have to engage. Without parental or family support many of the young people who attend require considerable help with practical aspects of their day-to-day lives. Most have experienced, or are experiencing a long wait to hear the result of their asylum claims. They face multiple disadvantages. Some are destitute or have no recourse to public funds as their fresh claims or judicial reviews are being processed. Many feel that their experiences are discounted and some find that their ages are disputed. Depending on their asylum status and age some have limited or no access to secondary or tertiary education. Baobab’s Senior Social Worker and our casework volunteers offer practical casework support and guidance through these complicated systems.
Our staff team advocates for our young people when they liaise with UKVI accommodation providers, statutory social services, housing departments, the benefits agencies, GPs, colleges and schools to support their care, housing, health, employment and education needs. With reduced services and capacity within many local authority and statutory services due to budget cuts, Baobab’s staff play an important role in ensuring that young people get the support they need and to which they are entitled. As well as advocating on behalf of the young people, our casework aims to build the young people’s skills and confidence so that they are eventually able to liaise with services independently.
The Baobab Centre strives to work in a multi-disciplinary way with professionals in each young person’s network as we consider this fundamental to meeting each young person’s best interests. We are active in convening multi-disciplinary case conferences to encourage working together.
Teaching and Training:
Baobab’s staff team offer training and seminars that provide a mixture of theoretical and practical opportunities for learning about our holistic approach to assessment and treatment. These sessions are open to staff of statutory and voluntary organisations who work with young asylum seekers and refugees. We also often present our work at conferences and lectures as a team along with members of the community who can provide first hand testimony of their experiences in their home countries, on their journeys into exile and in the UK. Please get in touch if you would like us to provide training.
Every year in the Autumn and Winter, we invite a range of leading practitioners, specialists, academics and lawyers to share their thoughts, ideas, research and learning about the experiences, rights and needs of young asylum seekers and refugees in a lecture series called 'Baobab Talks' . The purpose of the talks is to facilitate multi-disciplinary dialogue on policy and practice as it relates to young asylum seekers and refugees. The agenda is kept deliberately broad and the lectures are intended to be accessible to a general audience from different statutory and voluntary organisations as well as from different academic institutions. We have been very pleased to welcome civil servants from the Home Office, social workers, teachers, clinicians and voluntary sector workers to contribute to our lively debates which have both a formal and informal component. We encourage attendance from anyone interested in issues of children's rights and asylum, so if you are interested in joining our mailing list, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org .
Policy and Practice
The Baobab Centre works together with a number of like-minded organisations to challenge policies and practices that have a serious negative impact on the lives and development of our young community members. In doing so we engage directly with the Home Office, Social Services and other statutory agencies.