Saheliya Steering Group (Childcare Future)

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Lead Organisation:
Saheliya Steering Group
Award Amount:

The Project aimed to bring about lasting change by demonstrating effective ways of maximising employment of marginalised asylum seeking and refugee women including those with severe trauma and with limited English, particularly as Early Years Learning practitioners, so that

  • Project learning is rolled out by colleges and other learning and training providers can adopt (and adapt) our approach
  • Traumatised asylum seeking and refugee women become role models for others in their families and communities motivating others to follow similar routes to employment
  • Attitudes to childcare, parenting, emotional well-being and mental health in marginalised asylum seeking and refugee communities gradually change by women becoming sources for advice and information
  • Improve outcomes for asylum seeking and refugee children through having childcare staff in mainstream childcare settings who speak their first languages, have trauma-informed practice, and understand their cultural context (including identifying and helping to remove risk effectively and appropriately), and who can communicate effectively with their parents and carers.
New Scots reached

Key Information

The Project will fill a gap in employability pathways for marginalised asylum seeking and refugee women traumatised by gendered abuse, by demonstrating the effectiveness of culturally-informed, trauma-aware, learning and training pathways to improve childcare employment outcomes for those furthest from the job market. Saheliya’s approach for ex-service users to gain childcare qualifications and put them into practice in a supportive environment is already unique in Scotland. This Project will build on our learning from training, supporting, and working alongside ex-service users, enabling us to pilot an approach maximise positive outcomes for more marginalised women and which can be rolled out to other learning providers and employers, and with other marginalised groups.

Key Information

Geographical reach

Edinburgh, Glasgow


01/09/2021 – 31/10/2022

Target Groups

Asylum seeking and refugee women

Project Type

Supporting innovation


Limited English language skills, trauma, lack of meaningful points of integration, and long-term unemployment become mutually reinforcing, with long-term consequences for the women themselves, their children, and for Scotland.

We know that severely traumatised asylum seeking and refugee women need specific and additional support to achieve their potential, as well as childcare and a trusted environment. 50+% of Saheliya’s 53 staff are ex-service users, including women from refugee communities. We train and employ asylum seeking and refugee women surviving gendered abuse because they are proficient at speaking their own languages, have first-hand knowledge of service users’ cultural contexts, and have in-depth understanding of our service users’ experiences. They are the best people to advocate for other women taking their first steps on that same journey.

We have specially targeted learning pathways to support women into employment, including into childcare – with Edinburgh Colleges since 2011, and since 2018 with Glasgow Colleges, to combat the persistent lack of asylum seeking and refugee women and other women experiencing racism with childcare qualifications. While our childcare social enterprises in Edinburgh and Glasgow generate almost 25% of our income, we have identified that traumatised asylum seeking and refugee women need additional support to participate in learning, achieve qualifications, and deliver Early Years Learning best practice.

Involvement of New Scots in project

We have delivered the courses online (at the beginning of the project) and face to face mainly after the Covid-19 restrictions were lifted in our premises. We offered travel expenses to the participants attending the courses to ensure their attendance or when the courses were delivered online we offered top-ups to help them to engage. Courses were tailored taking longer to suit the needs of the participants and maintain their engagement. They were offered a positive environment with continuous support and encouragement.

We ensured the participation of our service users also by giving the opportunity to those who were not able to complete the courses for a specific reason to repeat the assessment during the following course.


Our New Scots project has been able to refer 21 participants to our Access 2 safety programme which leads to employment as language support and caseworker, including in our social enterprise. When New Scots started, funding for this had not been confirmed by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

Also 26 women were referred to the sewing and workshops sessions.

The introduction to childcare information sessions elicited disclosures from women about their children’s challenging behaviour and additional support needs. The children had not been assessed or diagnosed, and the mothers were resistant to their children being diagnosed due to the stigma of having a child with a disability. This led to us establishing a specific Additional Support Needs group (funded from other sources) which the New Scots project and our other services referred to, and which also referred back to learning and employment activities. One participant from this sessions resulted to have knowledge in autism and especial needs. She will be fast track to some of the programs we are delivering at the moment ( Access to safety and the Anti-stigma project).

This year we are delivering more IT and/or digital skills courses through our partnership with WEA, City of Glasgow college and Trade union to cope with the demand for this courses.

Challenges encountered

Women’s engagement in the courses was affected by a number of challenges, including childcare obligations, household responsibilities and, in some cases, language skills – as written skills were needed to take the assessments. Some women did not feel ready or felt that their language level was not good enough to do a course, and did not have enough confidence, and some felt anxious having not been in a learning environment for long time. The lockdown affected them, having been in isolation for a long time without being able to practice their English them became apprehensive about starting up again and felt that they needed to build up their confidence again. Also many of the women contacted were busy studying at the college trying to improve their English and wishing to acquire necessary language skills to be able to access the labour market or to progress to higher education.

During the project we found that the status of our service users was a barrier for them to engage with one of the courses we were offering. The Level 2 Introduction to Caring for Children and Young People offered by Skills Network, which is a government funded course, required the service users to provide ID, NI number, or proof of residence during the application process. As almost half of our service users interested in the course were asylum seekers, they did not have the required status to be able to join the course. We have raised this with accreditation bodies, colleges etc. We believe that a little more flexibility on the progression route would enable women to gain confidence in their English, their literacy, and their IT skills.

Travel expenses are another challenge our service users were facing.  Some cannot afford to come to Saheliya for the courses, as they do not have money for transport. Saheliya can only reimburse them for their bus tickets when they attend classes. As a suggestion, it may be worth considering other means by which refugees and asylum seekers can be provided with transport as their inability to afford to travel is an impediment to their integration into society.


It would be useful to have a dedicated learning and employability post whose remit would be to match women to volunteering and work-experience opportunities at Saheliya and in partner organisations, and to liaise with other organisations, supporting women to take up external opportunities. As we support the most marginalised, many of our service users need far more encouragement before they are able to put their skills to full use. We know it works: our staff team are 50%+ ex-service users, we established a pilot aquaponics fish farm using volunteer skills. So much more could be done.

Case study: ‘Ester’ was waiting to see a case worker. She hadn’t got an appointment but came in as she felt so depressed. After waiting for half an hour, she began to get angry, complaining to other service users and to staff that she was really depressed and needed to see someone. No case worker was available, so another colleague met with her one-to-one to see what the problem was. Ester had just gained refugee status but she couldn’t see any way for her life to progress. ‘Nobody wants me’, she said. The colleague asked Ester where she would like to be in three years’ time, ‘running my own hairdressing business’ replied Ester, but I can’t do that here because I don’t know about health and safety, or where I can run my business, or what things are dangerous to use’. We referred Ester to Jobs and Business Glasgow and to the Social Enterprise Academy. She is now learning how to set up her own business and getting the support she needs.

Project Partners