A teenage boy is standing outside looking down at a letter in his hand. He is frowning or looking worried. There is a white picket fence across the street behind him with trees behind the fence.
Taken from video Barnas vei (Children's Way) on Vimeo by SOS-barnebyer.

The importance of supporting children and young people leaving care

SOS Children’s Villages Norway has produced a video called ‘Barnas vei’ (Children’s Way) in which we see the anxiety experienced by a young person who arrived unaccompanied and is waiting to receive the results of his request to remain in a country. It depicts the fear and concern experienced by young people awaiting such decisions. Click here to watch this short film.

Taking into consideration the reasons a child or young person is leaving care and the risks and outcomes they may experience will help inform the type of support they might need from us and the responses we should try and offer.

Why unaccompanied and separated children and young people leave care

Reasons unaccompanied and separated children and young people might leave their care setting include:

  • Reaching the legal age at which, according to national law, they are no longer entitled to provision of alternative care – i.e., they are ‘ageing out’ of care. This age may differ from country to country. This is applicable whether in a country of transit, or country of final destination
  • Family reunification – either returning to their country of origin or in a new country
  • The protection concern that led a child to have to be separated from parents or other legal customary caregivers back home, or while they were on the move, has been resolved
  • Being denied permission to remain in a country and therefore having to move on
  • The wish to continue a journey
  • Loss of care if a care provider - as, for example, a kinship or foster carer - is no longer willing, or able, to provide it.

Challenges that unaccompanied and separated children may experience when leaving care.

Whether in a country of transit or that of final destination, the situation of unaccompanied and separated children and young people who leave care may be compounded by a variety of circumstances specifically related to being a migrant or refugee. These include:

  • Change in, or lack of, legal status – with additional stress caused by long periods waiting for status confirmation and fear of deportation
  • Lack of necessary documentation
  • Being denied access to social services, legal services, health care including psychosocial support, housing and, other necessary services
  • Being unable to continue their education
  • Discrimination and difficulty integrating into local society
  • No legal right, or difficulty accessing employment
  • Language barriers
  • Being denied the opportunity to participate in decision making
  • Shortage of well trained workers including those able to provide psychosocial support
  • Risks of continuing to move as unaccompanied or separated children, including risks associated with traffickers and smugglers

Of particular concern among these challenges is the question of legal status, often bringing with it long periods waiting for a decision and fears of deportation. This situation can have serious effects on psychological well-being – possibly adding to existing feelings of anxiety and stress as a result of experiences while on the move. Indeed, the psychological impact has been so serious for some, that, as indicated in a report issued by the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare, this has contributed to the reason that some children and young people have attempted, or committed, suicide.

Outcomes for care leavers

There are care leavers around the world who move into full and happy independent lives - including those who have arrived in countries as unaccompanied or separated. Nevertheless, evidence tells us that children and young people who have been in care are at much higher risk of experiencing a range of poor long-term social, emotional, and development outcomes. These include:

  • Financial and material poverty
  • Homelessness
  • Poor mental health and physical wellbeing
  • High levels of unemployment
  • Poor educational qualifications and less access to continuing education or training
  • High rates of teenage pregnancy
  • High risk of experiencing different forms of exploitation
  • Stigma and discrimination
  • An increased likelihood of involvement in, or exposure to, criminal activity
  • Loneliness, fear and exclusion from society

These consequences highlight the importance of providing as much support as possible to those leaving care.

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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