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Meeting the needs of asylum-seeking and refugee one-parent families: One Family and a changing clientele. Anne Bowen Social Policy & Communications Officer – One Family – Voice, Support Action for One-Parent Families ISPA conference 17.09.04. Overview.

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Meeting the needs of asylum-seeking and refugee one-parent families: One Family and a changing clientele

Anne Bowen

Social Policy & Communications Officer –

One Family – Voice, Support Action for One-Parent Families

ISPA conference 17.09.04



  • Service – oriented reflection on reviewing client group needs and providing responsive services
  • One Family and a changing clientele
  • One-parent families in Ireland
  • Asylum seekers and refugees in context
  • Needs of asylum seeking and refugee one-parent families
  • One Family service responses

One Family & a changing clientele

  • Formerly Cherish – providing voice, support and action to one-parent families through membership, professional services and campaigning
  • Information and support, helpline, counselling in crisis pregnancy and for adults in one-parent families, training for members of one-parent families and workers, childcare, campaigning and advocacy
  • History of developing policy positions and responses based on experience of delivery of essential supportive services to one-parent families based on principles of mutual support and empowerment

Profile of asylum- seeking clients accessing services

  • 2003 = 31% of all contacts with services were from international clients, predominantly in asylum process.
  • All female
  • Country of origin of majority of international clients; African, Eastern European countries (former USSR)
  • Large in-flow of drop-in clients to Information and Support Service requiring specific information and advocacy and support
  • High proportion of parents accessing Programmes Service due to lack of access to training and education programmes
  • Majority of children in Childcare Service are from asylum-seeking families – issues of language needs and assistance for parents with childcare and parenting supports
  • Research conducted to look at needs of clients and how best to respond – mixed method, interviews, focus groups, desk research

One-Parent Families in Ireland

  • At least 153,900 solo parent headed households (Census 2002)
  • 12% of households in state
  • 11% of the total population
  • 24.5% increase on number of solo parent headed households in 1996
  • 40% widowed, 32% divorced/separated, 24% sngle parent
  • 24% of households in consistent poverty (ESRI)
  • Range of barriers to full social inclusion

Asylum seekers and refugees in context

  • 2003, 20.6million people of concern to UNHCR, majority refugees, asylum-seekrers or displaced persons
  • Ireland one of most popular destinations in Europe
  • Lower refugee recognition rate in Ireland than other countries
  • Lower application rates in recent years: policy and trends combined

Demographic profile of Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Ireland

  • 2002: applicants, 50.4% female, 49.6% male
  • 40.6% aged 26-35, 24.1% 18-25 6.5% 12-17
  • 34.8% form Nigeria, 14.4% Romania. Moldova, Zimbabwe, Ukraine, Poland, Sierra Leone and Republic of Congo
  • Cultural differences in attitudes towards children and one-parent families in many countries of origin, especially Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Republic of Congo

Needs of asylum seeking one-parent families

Clarity :

“It’s a new process, and its left to you”

  • Complex process
  • Based on Irish administrative system
  • Lack of clear information on process and structures
  • Language barriers
  • System is not family-friendly in its processes

Needs – continued


“At first everything is strange – new house, new people”

  • Accomodation centres unstuiable for families
  • Often culturally inappropriate
  • Poorly accomodated, overcrowded
  • No space for family autonomy
  • Segregation from wider community

Needs – continued

Social Support

“The system makes you understand that you’re only temporary”

  • Physical and emotional isolation
  • Majority of clients accessing OF services found to have no informal support networks and little contact with formal support networks
  • Previous life trauma
  • Difficulties of integration
  • Experience of poverty indicates need for social support for one-parent families in direct provision for development of children

Needs - continued

Freedom from prejudice

“I just can’t let it get to me, I believe that someone who is racist is really just a sad person”

  • Social stigma and unfounded rumours regarding asylum seekers
  • Unreported low level abuse
  • Institutional discrimination
  • Lack of cultural understanding
  • Needs for change at highest levels – language and practice

Needs - continued


“You come here and you still need to feel useful”

  • No right to education, training or employment
  • Lack of financial means
  • Frustration – cultural difference and inexperience of dependency cultures
  • Lack of development opportunities for children



“It’s hard, it depends on your personality, whether you can adjust”

  • Ironic situation of forced dependence and lack of autonomy coupled with lack of supportive and directive services
  • Difficult for parental autonomy and development of parent-child relationship

Needs- continued

Intermediate Provision

“It would be good if you could use your education, your profession now”

  • Downgrading of skills due to inactivity
  • Lack of opportunity to engage in education, training , basic skills development during lengthy asylum process
  • Difficulties for younger parents in adolescent centres on majority to living with adults, often with young children
  • Need for accommodation provision for adolescents

Needs - continued

Appropriate diet

“All the food seemed strange”

  • Culturally inappropriate diet
  • Lack of other means by which to provide more appropriate meals
  • Difficulties with children’s diets and nutrition

Needs – continued

Accessible Healthcare

“When I was pregnant my doctor spoke French; it made me so happy”

  • Daunting: language and cultural issues
  • Possible lack of previous interaction with formal healthcare
  • Lack of medical documentation – refusal of service
  • Cultural issues regarding reproductive and child health – lack of use of contraceptives, differences in use of physical punishment, circumcision and FGM
  • Difficulties for those experiencing crisis pregnancy – unavailability of abortion, difficulties in accessing right to travel

Needs- continued

Adequate mental healthcare

“I am nobody here”

  • Experience of traumatic life events
  • PTSD
  • Cultural bereavement
  • Culture shock
  • Lack of social support

Needs – continued

Special care for unaccompanied minors

“It takes a lot from you”

  • Lack of support services and personnel
  • Lack of educational facilities, physical space to study – may lead to educational disadvantage
  • Lack of play facilities and facilities for younger people – impact on development
  • Lack of parenting support
  • Need to integrate education and socialisation facilities in accommodations
  • Group home models proposed

Needs continued

Special care for one-parent families

“It’s tough . At home a child is not only a parent's responsibility”

  • Lack of social and familial support networks – concept of “community parenting” and extended family
  • Lack of childcare for parents in education
  • Access to OPFP
  • Issues with child benefit access & habitual residence

One Family’s Service responses

  • Regular monitoring of client group demographics and evaluation and analysis of services – team structures, service reviews and departmental reporting
  • Recognition of changing demographic profile from young single mothers to varied age profile and high proportion of asylum seeking parents presenting high support needs
  • Piloting and reviewing services

Programmes & Training Service

  • Moving On for asylum seeking parents – recognition of lack of activity and education etc. for asylum seeking solo parents
  • Community arts programme
  • Integration elements
  • Group faciliation based – allowing for development of support networks
  • High usage of computer programmes, looking at language needs and increasing number of programme sessions per year to meet demand
  • Women’s health and parenting tailored to recognise cultural differences in pareting , discipline and reproductive health practices

Information & Support Service

  • Providing advocacy , information & “safe space” to discuss asylum process, providing representation where appropriate and possible
  • Developing appropriate “signposting” referral to provide ease of referal for parents who may have to access multiple services
  • Linking in with other appropriate information providers – aiming to act as gateway service for clients to access any required information
  • Increased staffing levels to meet need for intensive support and drop-in service while also meeting needs of existing client group
  • Facilitating Support and Social Groups to provide information support networks

Childcare Service

  • Increased range of services in response to parenting support needs of asylum seeking solo parents
  • Using range of non-verbal communication methods with children and parents
  • Cultural and diversity training for all staff, including those working directly with apretns and children
  • Range of information materials, training and information sessions for parents to meet information deficits and address cultural differences in parenting practice; including managing difficult behaviour, nutrition, immunisation, etc
  • Revision of Parent & Child Group to provide informal support between parents as well as activities to foster interaction between children who may experience isolation.

Social policy, advocacy and campaigning

  • Increasing range of issues and ensure an equality and social inclusion approach to work – involved in range of intitiatives
  • Committed to unprejudiced regard of families, regardless of status
  • Communication to wider grouping including new networks and liaison with and use of cultural media

General services

  • All service development mindful of need to be responsive to emerging needs of client group
  • All services are expanding to meet whole variety of need, therefore diversifying as well as continuing to focus on original client grouping, fostering integration of all clients
  • Summer programme, annual holiday and social group used as methods to foster integration, provide “safe space” for asylum seeking solo parents to form informal support networks and experience new services and events