Journal Article

Agency and Silence: Young People Seeking Asylum Alone in the UK

Elaine Chase

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 40, issue 7, pages 2050-2068
Published in print October 2010 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online September 2009 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
Agency and Silence: Young People Seeking Asylum Alone in the UK

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This paper presents findings from a Department of Health-funded study into the emotional well-being of young people seeking asylum on their own in the UK. It discusses how young people accounted for only partly disclosing information about the circumstances surrounding their quest for asylum and subsequent aspects of their lives since arriving in the UK. Foucault's panoptic mechanism and its focus on the effects of power as dispersed through scrutiny are applied as a theoretical framework to contextualise these experiences. The paper shows that young people's decisions about how much of their current or past lives they share with others are more complex than indicated by earlier research. The paper argues that, for many young people, the predominant impetus for selective disclosure was a desire to retain a degree of agency as they navigated their way through immigration, asylum, social care, health and education systems and simultaneously sought to establish themselves in the social world. These findings have implications for how social care (and other) professionals engage and work with young people seeking asylum alone.

Keywords: Asylum; unaccompanied young people; silence; scrutiny; agency

Journal Article.  7760 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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