At ESN’s seminar on 23-24 October discussions focused on the care provided by public authorities to unaccompanied children, how social services are recognising the specific needs of migrant families, and the support provided for migrant youth in their transition to adulthood.

Supporting unaccompanied migrant children in care

Guardians play a crucial role in ensuring that children receive all the support they need. As noted by Luciano Melandri (UNICEF), guardians are a key element of a network that provides support to children and therefore they should receive appropriate training to fulfil this role at best. Due to the variety of national laws regulating guardianship, Jantine Walst (Defense for Children) also emphasized the necessity of adopting core standards at European level.

Jessica Farnan (City of Dublin) presented a model to delegates of an educational programme for unaccompanied and separated children linked with the care system. The City of Dublin Education and Training Board created a pre-immersion or transition programme for 12-18 year-olds to prepare migrant children for entry into mainstream education. The programme lasts between 6 weeks and 12 months, depending on the needs of the child, and offers regular classes, guidance, and after school activities. Since 2016 the programme has helped 112 young migrants access mainstream education.

Supporting children within the family

Parenting support is a key tool to empower families and guaranteeing that children have a better chance to integrate into their host countries. Marianne Gabrielsson (City of Stockholm) explained that good parenting is crucial to prevent addiction, problems in school, alienation, crime and mental health issues. She said that is why the City of Stockholm runs a bespoke programme of counselling, home visits, parental advisors and a day care centre, all of which aim to improve the chances of migrant families integrating into their local communities.

Cornelia Stolzenberg (City of Hannover) provided an example of support for single mothers. Empowering lone parents means providing a vast range of services that span language training, childcare, psychological support, health care, violence prevention as well as individual support plan meetings with social workers. The role of cultural mediators was particularly emphasized as they represent bridge builders between different cultures. Allowing enough time to build trust between single mothers and social services is also an important element to be taken into account.

Supporting migrant children turning 18

Stressing the importance of ensuring a positive transition to adulthood for unaccompanied migrant children Mahboba Madadi, chair of the Coalition for Unaccompanied Children in Sweden, told participants: “When you turn 18, you need to move to adult refugees’ accommodations and very often change municipality and school. In most cases, after 18 you don’t have the opportunity to return to school”. Anna Gärdegård (Nordic Welfare Centre) highlighted that school is the most important factor in the prevention of future problems for unaccompanied children in Nordic countries. Emily Farchy (OECD) explained that targeted labour market integration programmes and training are key to reducing the chances of young migrants becoming NEETs.

The Youth College in Austria is a successful example of support for young people turning 18 that improves their chances of integrating into the labour market. The Youth College has 1,000 young migrant students aged between 15 and 21 attending different classes They also receive daily individual coaching and counselling as well as preparation for high school, apprenticeship, the job market and university.

Conclusion

A change of narrative is needed that recognises migrant children and young people as assets for European societies instead of as a burden. Successfully integrating migrant children and young people requires stronger cooperation between social, education, and migration services. Shortening asylum-seeking procedures also needs to be addressed because these negatively impact the success of integration processes. Finally, adequately training staff to better understand the culture of the country of origin of migrant children is crucial to avoid culture clashes.

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