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Reasons children are abandoning care and going missing

Why are unaccompanied and separated children on the move going missing?
A teenage boy with a black sweatshirt and red bag slung over his shoulder. He walks along a street with his hands in his pockets. Behind him and to his right side another teenage boy with a yellow tshirt and backpack. They are in a city street.
© UNICEF (UN027449) / Volpe

Unaccompanied and separated children walk out of care placements, and from the point of view of care providers, they go missing or ‘disappear’. The concern for unaccompanied and separated children who leave their care setting in this way is that not only do they risk compromising their immigration status, but also they miss out on care, protection, and access to other services. They may also be placing themselves at serious risk of harm. They can lose access to even basic services such as shelter, food, and clothing while putting themselves at greater risk of being deceived, controlled, exploited, and trafficked by criminals and people who seek to take advantage of their vulnerability.

There are things we can do to discourage this, beginning with an understanding of the reasons why children abandon care. Such reasons might include children:

  • Wanting to reach a particular destination – for example to re-join other family members and feeling obstructed by being placed in care before reaching this destination
  • Being under the control of criminals, such as smugglers or traffickers, who have given the child instructions on how to meet up with them again and how to continue their journey after spending a short time in care
  • Waiting many months for official decisions on their immigration status. The slow progress leaves young people frustrated and frightened about their insecure status in a country. It denies them the opportunity to define their current and future life, so they decide to leave
  • Feeling pressure to take care of their families back home by gaining and sending money to them
  • Being disillusioned with the poor quality of alternative care and other services made available to them
  • Being upset and frustrated because they have not received the services they need – for example they may be placed in a class at school that is not educationally appropriate, or they may really need language lessons that are not made available to them
  • Having their freedom of movement restricted, as, for example, being held in closed accommodation centres and therefore doing their best to escape

In understanding these reasons, you will be better able to anticipate and prevent the child’s abandonment of care.

The ‘See Also’ section at the bottom of the page has further information that you might find interesting.

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Caring for Children Moving Alone: Protecting Unaccompanied and Separated Children

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