Thank you, convener. It is difficult to squeeze in all those issues. As well as having the title that you read out, I am chief social work officer for the city of Glasgow; I have been involved in asylum and refugee work in the city for the past eight years.
You are right: our refugee and asylum work really started when we met the first air ambulance from Kosovo. From then to where we are now, our city has been transformed, and our best practice in how we work with people who are seeking asylum and people who have refugee status has been transformed. We have learned a lot over the period. We have got some things wrong, and we have put some things right, having learned lessons. That puts us in a position of expertise in and experience of best practice in refugee and asylum work in Scotland in particular, but also probably in the United Kingdom.
We work really closely with colleagues in the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. I have two children in schools in Glasgow. The black and minority ethnic population in our schools in Glasgow is now 18 per cent. When I started working as a social worker in Glasgow a number of years ago, it was 3.2 per cent. The transformation in our young people’s experience in our schools has enriched the experience of all Glaswegians, and I am particularly proud of what we have managed to achieve, but I am not complacent, because we can always continue to learn. We need to ensure that our practice is among the best.
On where we are now, Derek Mitchell was quite right. When the council held the contract, it was for accommodation and support, and we were really clear that integration in particular—how to work with local communities in Glasgow and how best to support asylum seekers and refugees—was to be done through that support mechanism. Therefore, it was really important that people had links to local schools, communities and general practitioners. We have had good links, which continue, with colleagues in Police Scotland. In our experience, the support is at least as important as the accommodation.
One of the deficits in the current contract is that it has, essentially, become an accommodation contract; that support element has been lost, which means that the experience of asylum seekers in the city of Glasgow is now different from what it would have been when the local authority held the contract, with the store that we set by support. We work with accommodation providers and the Home Office to try to mitigate that loss and ensure that, when people get status, they are known to us as soon as possible. We have continued to keep specialist teams, so we still have in our homelessness service an asylum and refugee team with asylum and refugee experience—in fact, the team leader met the plane from Kosovo. There is real length and depth of experience in that team. We have continued to ring fence that provision, because we recognise that people in the refugee population have particular needs once they get that status.
We are working with the registered social landlord sector in Glasgow, because one of the lessons that we are learning is that the homelessness route is perhaps not the best way of looking for permanent accommodation. There is on-going learning about how we work with refugees once they get that status.
We have had to pick up issues to do with connections into communities and into local health and education services that we would not have seen in the past when we had the contract. Even although some of the refugees with whom we work have been in Glasgow for a long time, we still have to work with them on that support, because it has not been around. That has changed for us.
We have had in the city for the past nine years a specialist team on unaccompanied asylum seeking, and we currently have a caseload of 147 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the city. We see young people presenting in Glasgow weekly, and we have, through COSLA, engaged specifically with young people who were in the Calais camp. In November last year, we took 19 young women from France. We offered more places—up to 35—but 19 young women arrived.
The specialist team has significant experience of working with that group of young people. At this point, we are halfway through the development of a new scheme of finding carers for unaccompanied 16 and 17-year-olds. Through faith communities and the third sector, specifically Positive Action in Housing, we have identified a group of 85 families who have expressed an interest in offering accommodation and support to an unaccompanied asylum-seeking young person. We are about two thirds of the way through assessments for that. That has not been tried anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Scottish Government colleagues are particularly interested in the scheme, so we have worked with Derek Mitchell and his team to keep up to date with other local authorities that are interested in what we are doing.
That initiative comes partly from our experience of working with refugees. In essence, it is giving the local community in Glasgow an opportunity to offer something practical. When we held information sessions, we got a really strong sense from Glaswegians that they need to do something practical to offer an alternative to the rhetoric on asylum seekers and refugees—even with some of the images from the Calais camp. We have given people that opportunity to do something practical. We expect to be able to offer family-based placements from the end of April or the beginning of May. We will match young people to families and continue to offer support. The young people will still be looked-after children, so they will still have an allocated social worker and work with the guardianship project.
Destitution and insecure immigration status, which are the committee’s focus, have long been difficult issues for us in Glasgow partly because, as a city and a country, we have been so successful at holding on to people once they have received a negative decision. We have very experienced lawyers working for Glasgow City Council who have, because they have experience from when we first took asylum seekers, developed real expertise on the legal situation. We also have on our website policy guidance for staff on the legal situation: we have attempted to give support to our staff to work their way through the legal system. Our chief solicitor has written advice on that for the Society of Local Authority Lawyers and Administrators in Scotland.
Our current position is that we assess families with dependent children in particular on a case-by-case basis. We are clear that, if the only issue is destitution, the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 means that it is not appropriate to accommodate those children in care. Contrary to some of the evidence that you have heard, that is clear in our guidance, which is public. I am happy to share that guidance with the committee for its inquiry.
We are not trained in the human rights assessment for people who have no recourse to public funds. The legal view is that our getting it right for every child assessment is, in essence, our human rights assessment for children and families because it stems from the legislation on children and young people that is based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. If a GIRFEC assessment, which we have to have, determines that the children are best looked after in their own family, we offer support to the family with accommodation and subsistence.
In the year to date, we have offered support to 31 families in Glasgow. As you can imagine, that has had a significant cost. Glasgow City Council is not, to add a further complication, a housing authority: we cannot house people who have no recourse to public funds in our own housing because we do not have any. Therefore, we have had to use temporary furnished accommodation or private lets, because it is not possible to take a Scottish assured tenancy through the RSL sector for people who have no recourse to public funds. We have significant accommodation costs in relation to that. We ensure that the situation of those families continues to be reviewed throughout their time with us.
For adults, the situation is slightly trickier. We use community care legislation and if, through an assessment of need, we find that an adult has needs beyond destitution, we offer support and subsistence. In the year to date, we have offered that kind of support to five adults.
We have in the population a significant cohort of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children whose appeal rights have been exhausted and who have no recourse to public funds. We take the view—it has not yet been challenged so we do not know whether it is legally competent—that those young people are care leavers and should be treated as such. That now applies to people up to the age of 26 under the legislation in Scotland, which is different from the legislation in England and Wales. The support that we offer to young unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is equivalent to the support that we offer to care leavers, so it includes access to section 29 grants for independent living.
Glasgow has a much larger cohort of those young people than there is anywhere else in Scotland. Our success rate—I would call it that—for young people getting a positive decision is about 50 per cent, whereas I think that it is about 30 per cent for the rest of the UK.