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Support, Guidance and Reunification for Children on the Move

Carolyn Housman's picture

by Carolyn Housman, CEO of Children and Families Across Borders (CFAB)

Children are on the move all over the world. The social service workforce can play a key role in meeting child protection, emotional needs, child rights, and family supports. In doing so, the workforce can support achieving the best outcome for children moving across borders.

Spotlight on Children and Families Across Borders (CFAB), the UK branch of International Social Service (ISS)  

CFAB supports children on the move between other countries and the UK, where they are seeking to settle with extended family members. Our international social work team offers free advice and ensures all options for a child’s long-term care are thoroughly assessed, that their views are listened to, and that they get the right long-term support.

CFAB campaign posterIn 2019, CFAB launched a new, free support service specifically for unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors joining family in the UK. This is in response to evidence of high rates of family breakdown within two years of reunification, due the traumatic journeys these unaccompanied children have taken and the lack of support available to family carers. The project provides advice, practical and emotional guidance, and assistance for families in this situation, supporting them to remain together where this is beneficial, understand their rights, and achieve their full potential.

CFAB is currently running a campaign to ensure more statutory support is provided to children being placed with family members overseas. For more information, click here.

Children on the Move and Immigration in the United Kingdom

Children on the move is a generic term that encompasses children who have been trafficked, who migrate, who are displaced by conflict and natural disasters, and who live and work on the streets.

With an estimated 50 million children on the move worldwide, migration is seen as a key challenge within the European Union (EU). Of particular concern is the increase in the number of child refugees in the last 10 years. In some cases, EU countries have seen more than a 200% increase in irregular borders crossings and more than a 1000% increase in asylum applications. In Britain, concern over immigration in general played a major role in the vote to leave the European Union. In August 2019, the UK said it would no longer accept asylum-seeking children with family in the UK due to the UK’s exit from the EU. 

The UK’s current immigration policy makes it difficult for people to access services, including healthcare, education, housing, work, bank accounts, or benefits. Prejudice against migrant or refugee families, as well as a lack of knowledge around entitlement to services, can mean that families are not seeking or getting statutory support when they may need it. It is also likely to disproportionality affect BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) families.

CFAB’s offers support based on the needs of the child or young person. This includes:

  • the development of an individual support plan,
  • referrals into relevant local services,
  • advice and signposting regarding financial support & other entitlements in the UK
  • support in navigating emotional and practical issues arising from changing family dynamics,
  • support for carers with parenting skills, respite care, peer support groups and family group conferencing.

What social service professionals and paraprofessionals can do

Children on the Move is not a European topic. Children are on the move all around the world. Below are some top tips for any social service professional to ensure child protection is at the centre of practice and to achieve the best outcome for children moving across borders. These are based on the recommendations of the Initiative for Child Rights in the Global Compacts.

  1. The best interest of the child should be the primary consideration in all actions and decisions. This should include the participation of qualified guardians and advisors for unaccompanied or separated refugee and migrant children.
  2. Promote and facilitate the social inclusion of refugee and migrant children, in particular concerning their access to legal identity, nationality, education, health care, justice and language training.
  3. Child protection services should be made available for all at-risk refugee and migrant children, including those who are unaccompanied and separated, from the time of their arrival.  
  4. Support family unity or reunification, when this is in the child’s best interests. Cross-border coordination between national child protection services is needed to provide a continuum of protection.
  5. Migrant children should access a range of services, including those related to health and education, adequate accommodation, social protection and psychosocial needs.
  6. Ensure children are not held in immigration detention and promote the right of children to remain with their families and/or guardians in non-custodial, community-based contexts while their immigration status is being resolved.
  7. If they are of an appropriate age or ability, children should participate in any decisions affecting them. Sustainable solutions should include residence and integration, and any returns must be both assisted and voluntary.

CFAB also recommends practitioners read the International Social Service practical guide, Children on the Move: from protection to a quality sustainable solution.

About CFAB

CFAB is the UK member of the International Social Service (ISS) – a network of social workers, lawyers and other child protection professionals and partners in over 120 countries.

Formed 90 years ago and headquartered in Geneva, ISS is the only international network focussed on inter-country social work.

The ISS network gives us unrivalled access to expert, on-the-ground support which allows us to assess whether a child’s return to their home country is realistic and in their best interests. This is more appropriate and cost-effective than sending social workers from the UK to make family assessments overseas. For more information, visit: