Social work with separated young people and human rights : cross-national perspectives on practitioners' approaches

Huegler, Nathalie (2016) Social work with separated young people and human rights : cross-national perspectives on practitioners' approaches. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This thesis considers social work practice with separated young people who have migrated to Germany and the UK, with a specific focus on the role of human rights perspectives within practitioners’ approaches. The conceptual starting points are the contradictions between human rights frameworks which are commonly conceptualised as universal and inclusive, and the exclusive responses of Western states towards 'irregular' and asylum migration. These contradictions are enhanced and complicated by binary conceptualisations of childhood and adulthood, affording children different rights from adults. In practice, separated young people are treated very differently depending on whether they are considered 'children' or 'adults'. While many face disbelief from authorities regarding their asylum and age claims, even those who are initially accepted as 'children' are faced with uncertain futures as they enter legal 'adulthood'.

Social workers, as members of a profession which considers itself a key proponent of social justice and human rights, are at the interface of these dilemmas in their practice with separated young people. They have a central role in inclusive processes, helping young people access support and resources, but they may also be caught up in exclusionary processes which significantly affect their practice, including their commitment to emancipatory values.

Seeking to unsettle and transcend dichotomist conceptualisations, the field research for this thesis examined accounts of practitioners in different organisational settings in Berlin and London/Southeast England. The findings suggest that there were different approaches, which were not mutually exclusive, to conceptualising and referring to human rights more or less explicitly in their day-to-day practice. In what can be described as a liminal field of social work practice, practitioners used a range of strategies between accommodation with and resistance to difficult policy contexts.

HueglerNathalie_SocialWorkWithSeparatedYoungPeopleAndHumanRights.pdf - Published Version

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