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The role of quality care in encouraging children and youth on the move in Europe to seek support in protected spaces

Author: Hanne Beirens (MPI Europe)

The hypothesis that quality of care, and the child’s perception thereof, matter in the prevention of children going missing has recently gained support. That the reasons for children and youth leaving reception facilities are more diverse than the aim to move on has been reconfirmed in the wake of the refugee crisis, where children disappeared from countries of destination and where the closure of the Greek border saw children leave one reception facility to join another. Reasons, such as fearing a negative decision on the asylum application, poor conditions in shelters, ineffective guardian systems or being at the mercy of a smuggling or trafficking gang also play a significant role.

The question of how to provide quality of care that is tailored to the mandate of each child and perceived as such by the individual is therefore at the heart of the workshop. Reception facilities, guardianship systems, foster families, communities and health, education and vocational training institutions that seek to protect and empower the development of the child and are able to convey that objective to the child are a key predictor in the child’s likelihood of staying where they have arrived.

In the workshop “The role of quality care in encouraging children and youth on the move in Europe to seek support in protected spaces” (Lost in Migration, 27 January, 11.45 – 13.15, workshop 7) representatives from civil society organisations in Belgium, Germany, Greece and Italy who work with (unaccompanied and separated) children will discuss the practices they have adopted in pursuit of providing quality care to the target group they are working with and ensuring that this resonates with the child’s mandate for his/her journey to Europe. Workshop participants will gain insight into those practices, how these are tailored to the (shifting) profile of the child, the dilemmas that practitioners have – and continue to face – in this respect, and the transferable lessons that can be drawn for other Member States and the EU as a supportive environment. The workshop will also include the perspective and voices from children and youth who are or have been in care while on the move in Europe, with the aim to inform a set of recommendations to serve as guidelines for the care of children and youth on the move across Europe.

The workshop will be structured around four sets of questions:

  1. Who is the child/target group of the services?
  2. How can services engage with the child and the mandate he/she has brought along, while maintaining its own mission and quality standards?
  3. How do we ensure that the child perceives the offers as speaking to his/her own (long-term) interests?
  4. What are the policy changes needed at EU level so that quality care is recognized as important and supported by states?

1. Who is the child/the target group of the services? 

The children who arrive in EU Member States without a parent or caretaker are neither a homogeneous nor static group. EU institutions, such as EUROSTAT and the European Migration Network, have documented the (mostly demographic) characteristics of these children, with the archetype of the teenage boy from Afghanistan emerging. There is, however, a significant time lag between the collection and analysis of this data, reducing its potential to inform and shape practices geared towards this group. Indeed, practitioners across Europe have noticed a significant shift in the profile(s) of children arriving.

As the profile, needs and interests of (unaccompanied or separated) children vary within and between different times of arrivals, it is important that care providers and authorities allocating funding to reception services are attuned and responsive to these changes. The workshop will map these recent shifts as observed by practitioners across Europe and then move to question of how to provide quality care vis-à-vis this (shifting) target group.

2. How can services provide quality care that engages with the child and the mandate he/she has brought along, while maintaining its mission and quality standards?

Rather than a one-size-fits-all model, the preference is for a diversity of choice regarding the composition and roles of staff and volunteers; types of institutional arrangements; material assistance and other types of services. Care providers must adhere to a particular mission and quality standards, while also engaging with the specificities of each child.

In the wake of the refugee crisis, the organisations represented at this workshop have operated as frontline services in first countries of arrival (e.g. Greece and Italy), but also in “destination countries” (e.g. Belgium and Germany). As a result, they had to rapidly adapt their service provision, tailor it to the changing profile of children arriving on their doorstep and devise a strategy to counter the worrying trend of children going missing from services. This part of the workshop engages with questions, such as what services to offer and who is best suited to provide these (e.g. internal vs external staff).

3. How do we ensure that the child perceives that what is offered as constituting quality care, in that it respects quality standards and is aimed to serve his/her best interests?

Practitioners are discovering that although making quality care available is a fundamental step for encouraging children to seek support in reception facilities or protective spaces, it is also important that this is captured in the perception and experience of the child. Many children go missing in the first hours following their detection by policy authorities or placement in a care centre, creating a narrow window of time in which to collect information and establishing confidence and dialogue to encourage children to seek support. Practitioners will discuss the range of practices that they have adopted over the years, including those to gain the child’s trust; to take an active interest in the mandate that the child brought along; to communicate the professional mandate of the reception facility and related institutions or actors; and to involve children in the development and assessment of care packages.

4. What are the policy changes needed at the EU level to make quality care recognized as important and supported by states?

Together with the local practitioners, the European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) will reflect on the role that the EU has played to date in fostering quality care for (unaccompanied and separated) children, for example, via legislation, action plans and funding but also via its relocation mechanism. Concrete recommendations will be presented as to how the EU and member states can support practitioners and care facilities as they face an increase in the number of (unaccompanied or separated) children arriving in Europe; tighter budgets; stretched service providers; and a shift in public opinion concerning migration.