13 August 2015

Reforming services: the example of refugee support

Joe Brady, Head of Protection & Integration at the Scottish Refugee Council, explains an organisational change process that led to a sharper focus on assets. He explains how service redesign was achieved through developing principles and trying and testing new approaches to learn what works in tackling issues of refugee integration and exclusion. This has included using Christie Principles and integrating evidence to action.

Rethinking integration

Refugee protection and integration are high profile international issues.

cover A.jpgThe UK Government seems to have retreated from integration as a policy priority: its ‘Prevent’ strategy being at odds with the prevention agenda in Scotland. The ‘Indicators of Integration’ developed by Ager and Strang, commissioned and initially welcomed by Westminster, have been embraced by Holyrood. The consensus in Scotland has been that integration begins on arrival and is a two way, dynamic process. To date the evidence suggests that for many we have only been successful in integrating into poverty.

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Operational review by Scottish Refugee Council on the impact and effectiveness of our integration work from 2011 onwards confirmed findings and identified new insights. Whilst projects had been successful, there was need for a holistic approach to integration which was person centred and recognised refugees' own self agency. The hostile political environment and inhumane asylum process had led many to focus on refugees’ vulnerability at the expense of recognising resilience.

A holistic integration approach

We embarked upon service redesign and began piloting different approaches. During the course of this we identified improved outcomes in housing and health for many refugees, e.g. decreased time spent homeless. This approach is based on underlying principles
  • early intervention
  • prevention
  • recognising resilience and vulnerability
  • partnership
  • sustainability
Our review coincided with the Scottish Government priorities set in the response to the Christie Report, ‘Renewing Scotland’s Public Services’ September 2011’ and its four pillars.

Picture 8.jpgOur strategic rethink is exampled by our Holistic Integration Service, a BIG Lottery Scotland funded project led by Scottish Refugee Council in partnership with Bridges Programmes, British Red Cross, Glasgow Clyde College and Workers Educational Association Scotland.  Operational since May 2013, we have taken an action learning approach to the delivery of the service, implementing a new assessment typology, a person centred rather than pipeline approach and engaging with service users and other service providers throughout.

Impacting Upon Integration

Independent evaluation by our learning partner Queen Margaret University has found that even the most resilient of refugees require guidance and advocacy to negotiate systems. It is concluded from the data that certain statutory services and rights - housing and benefits - are currently not accessible to legitimate beneficiaries acting independently.

The Holistic Integration Service is having a positive impact upon the ability of new refugees to access their rights and progress on their integration journeys.

Evidence informs our ongoing planning and service delivery. Workforce and organisational development are underpinned by a Community of Practice. We see our Partnership as an Impact Network and are committed to share our learning with wider stakeholders: refugees and asylum seekers being the primary audience.

New Scots in a renewed Scotland

We have sought to work in partnership with statutory bodies and the wider voluntary sector to improve outcomes for refugees and asylum seekers. A key vehicle for this has been the 'New Scots: Integrating Refugees in Scotland's Communities' strategy. Our Holistic Integration Service informed the design, content and delivery of the New Scots Year 1 Impact Conference in January 2015 and is recognised in the subsequent progress report as being critical to rethinking integration. We have highlighted the diversity and dynamism of refugees and asylum seekers and provided insights into their lives challenging other delegates to reconsider how they work with them, to recognise their self-agency and resilience, and to take an asset-based approach to working in partnership.

We are committed to not only identifying what works in Scotland but how all stakeholders – in Scotland and internationally - can use evidence to make decisions about public service development and reform. As a Partnership we aim to ensure that our learning underpins sustainability not only for us and other agencies but the people for and with whom we work: New Scots.

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Recognising refugee resilience and ability to contribute as New Scots is vital. However resilience is futile if we don’t work together collectively to address structural and systems problems. We will be judged not only how Scottish Refuge Council takes this forward, but statutory bodies, the wider third sector and our communities.

As Scotland continues to define itself post-Referendum, the learning from the Holistic Integration Service identifies opportunities to alleviate some of the issues in this report through the extended devolution proposals put forward by the Smith Commission whether these apply explicitly to refugees or welfare. Rethinking integration is vital to Scotland’s future in a renewed Scotland.

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