An unaccompanied teenager is crouching on the ground holding a blanket and carrying a backpack. It is night time and he is smiling at the camera. There are other unaccompanied children and adult refugees standing nearby.
Abdulhakim, 17, from Afghanistan, at the Opatovac registration and transit centre on the border with Serbia. He will spend a few hours at this centre, along with as many as 4,500 other refugees and migrants.

Recognition of challenges and dilemmas

We recognise that offering support and alternative care to unaccompanied and separated children, and those who may have to be separated from parent/s and legal/customary caregivers they are travelling with, is not always a straightforward or easy task.

Some of the challenges you might face include:

  • Overwhelming numbers of children arriving into a country they wish to remain in, or on the move through transit countries
  • Difficulties distinguishing between children and young adults
  • Difficulties identifying whether children are accompanied and separated or not
  • Lack of suitable alternative care options and availability of other services
  • Even though you know children should be placed in good quality alternative care, such services don’t exist and unsuitable placement in detention centres or adult transit camps might be an option you have been obliged to use
  • Being unable to provide unaccompanied children with separate accommodation from adults
  • Being unable to provide children the services they have a right to receive
  • Lack of access to training
  • Lack of coordination and cooperation between professional services

Some of these challenges may be caused by:

  • Lack of political will to make changes
  • Lack of resources - including adequate numbers of well trained personnel
  • Laws and policies that do not safeguard the rights of children
  • Laws and policies that are discriminatory and harmful, as, for example, allowing the detention of unaccompanied and separated children based on their migration status

Further challenges might include situations when you wish to protect and support a child who does not want the help on offer, or who only wants to remain in safe accommodation for a few days before departing again.

We realise these are not always easy dilemmas to resolve. However, we hope that during this course, you have the opportunity to learn from the information we provide and the practical examples - known as ‘promising practice’ - we will show you. We hope these examples inspire you and illustrate what can be achieved in the face of such challenges.

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This article is from the free online course:

Caring for Children Moving Alone: Protecting Unaccompanied and Separated Children

University of Strathclyde