Refugee children and youth
Refugee children and youth share with their adult counterparts many of the same exposures and impacts of the refugee and resettlement experiences. However, they also have specific needs which require a targeted approach in integration planning. To ensure planning and programming for integration of children and youth is relevant and successful, governments and service providers need to collect and analyse child and youth-specific data, to build their programs and services with an evidence base specific to this cohort.
Supports provided to refugee families will be critical to the integration of children and youth. Many of the strategies proposed in this section have the broader effect of strengthening families (i.e. by supporting access to employment and housing) however it is important to take into consideration the specific needs of children and youth.
Hence, the focus of this section is on the following:
- Measures to empower refugee children and youth for their meaningful participation in the resettlement country.
- Ways to enhance refugee families' and receiving communities' understanding of the impact of forced displacement and resettlement on children and youth with consideration to the fact that they are negotiating these challenges while at the same time navigating developmental changes relating to adolescence (i.e., dual transition).
- Strategies to bolster capacity among organisations and institutions supporting children and youth experiencing this ‘dual’ transition process.
- Considerations and factors that need to be taken into account when planning integration for refugee children and youth.
When taking account of refugee children and youth, think about:
- Access to peer-to-peer support.
- The availability of specialist education support.
- Access to schools providing culturally sensitive and responsive education to refugee children and youth upon arrival.
- Intensive and ongoing integration support for all children and youth.
- Intensive integration support and alternative care arrangements for separated or unaccompanied refugee minors.
- Provision of youth and child focused services and participatory activities delivered by refugee-led community-based organizations.
- Availability of child and youth focused services and participatory activities from receiving communities or organizations that are capacitated to support the challenges linked to dual transitions.
- Making provision for unaccompanied and separated minors.
- Making provision for youth with disrupted education.
- Availability of language assistance in key systems serving refugee children, youth and their families.
- Provision of language assistance tailored for children and youth.
- Strategies to avoid children and youth being used to interpret on behalf of other family members.
- Awareness raising activities for professionals in the receiving community providing services to refugee children, youth and their families on the availability of language assistance.
- Culturally sensitive, school-based language programs.
- Early access to language training for children and youth alongside adult language training programs for their families.
- Alternative language training combined with bridging education programs.
- Language training for youth who are out of school.
- Vocational and/or occupation specific language training to prepare youth for employment.
- Orientation on family tracing and reunion programs for unaccompanied and separated minors.
- Targeted orientation programs for youth, where possible provided by trained peers.
- School-based orientation programs for children and youth.
- Orientation programs during language training programs for youth who are out of school/over the schooling age.
- Orientation programs for families of refugee children and youth delivering information on matters concerned with parenting (e.g. peer pressure, changing family relationships, the effects of trauma and resettlement on children and youth, drug use, online safety, bullying and racism, etc.).
- Orientation programs for families and youth on the local education system and post-compulsory education (further/higher education, vocational education and training, etc.).
- Orientation programs for families and youth on the local employment market and occupations, where possible provided by trained peers.
Employment and training
- Job search and career planning programs for youth, both those attending school and out-of-school.
- Vocational training/bridging programs for youth with no prior or disrupted education.
- Capacity building for health workers who have contact with refugee children and youth (e.g. pediatrician, school nurses, health and mental health staff).
- Age friendly, culturally appropriate and accessible health and mental health services for refugee children and youth.
- Awareness raising among children and youth on availability of health and mental health services.
Welcoming and inclusive societies
- Access to recreational and cultural activities.
- Capacity building initiatives in school communities and childcare facilities.
- Awareness raising activities targeting receiving community members, i.e. employers, service providers and the broader community on the strengths and capabilities of, as well as the challenges faced by refugee children and youth.
- Language training for youth who are out of school.
- Creation of opportunities for refugee children and youth to come together with their peers in the receiving community.
- Arrangements for providing capacity building to key service providers serving refugee children and youth and their families.
- staff development initiatives (e.g. bilingual and culturally-sensitive teaching and childcare professionals, cultural advisers, aides).
- professional development, training and awareness raising activities for service providers to enhance their capacity to support refugee children and youth (e.g. teachers, child welfare professionals, nurses, youth workers).
- ensuring meaningful participation during program design as well as service delivery.
- participatory and feedback mechanisms for children and youth on programs and services delivered.
- planning and services should be age appropriate, targeted and recognize the needs and diversity of refugee children and youth (such as LGBTIQ+, disabilities).
- best interest of children should be a paramount consideration during planning.
Meeting the rights of refugee children and youth
Integration programs and systems are often designed around the needs of adults and family groups, based on an assumption that adult-focused programs can be readily applied to children and youth. However, it is important for children and youth to receive targeted support.
Planning for children and youth will enable services delivered in resettlement countries to respond more effectively to their specific capacities and needs to ensure that they become actively engaged in the integration process.
Flexible and responsive planning
- Children are defined as “every human being below the age of 18 years, unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier” according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).
- The UN Youth Strategy (p. 4) indicates youth as being: “Aged 10 to 24 years…there is no universally agreed international definition of youth and while recognizing that the UN Secretariat for statistical purposes defines ‘youth’ as those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years.”
Seldom consulted, frequently overlooked, and often unable to fully participate in decision making, the talents, energy, and potential of refugee youth (15-24 years old), remain largely untapped. Refugee youth want the same things young people everywhere want: to be consulted, to be listened to, to contribute, to engage, and to be part of solutions. They want opportunities, education, employment, and inclusion.
Child and youth empowerment through promotion of active citizenship; recognition of their agency, resilience and positive contribution (see UN Youth 2030: the UN Youth Strategy, p 5); can strengthen their integration in their new countries. If accomplished in a way which promotes intergenerational and intercultural understanding and harmony, successful integration of children and youth can also help enhance the integration prospects of other family members and refugee communities.
The importance of early intervention
The benefits of providing integration support early are discussed elsewhere in this Handbook. When planning for early intervention, it is important to recognise and build on the strengths and capabilities of children and youth, while addressing existing barriers (see para 16, UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), General comment No. 20 (2016) on the implementation of the rights of the child during adolescence. Providing targeted support to children and youth has the dual benefits of intervening not only at an early stage of integration, but at an early stage of their development. A positive and supportive resettlement environment will be particularly important for those children and youth who have been exposed to trauma in the course of their refugee experiences.
Education International Toolkit - Promoting integration of migrants and refugees in and through education
The impact of the refugee and resettlement experience
A) Impact on development
The refugee and resettlement experiences coincide and may interfere with critical stages of the social, emotional, physical and intellectual development of refugee children and youth. For some, this may result in acute physical and emotional problems requiring intervention or will to some extent have compromised the conditions required for healthy progress in each of the key developmental domains.
The loss of or disruption to significant relationships in the family and community, meanwhile, may affect attachment behaviors, and in particular, refugee children and youth’s capacity to trust and to form meaningful and supportive relationships known to be critical to healthy development. The anxiety associated with exposure to traumatic events, and the adjustments and change involved in resettlement, can have an impact on children and youth’s mastery over basic developmental tasks. Diminished competence in these tasks may in turn have an impact on their self-esteem.
B) Impact on identity formation
The loss of place, culture, and in many cases, secure and stable relationships means that children and youth may have a limited basis upon which to build a positive sense of identity and belonging. The process of identity formation which is part of adolescence may be particularly complex for youth being affected by the overlay of the refugee experience, cultural adjustment and the practical demands of resettlement. This process may be further compromised by a number of additional in the resettlement country, including:
- policies and services provided in the resettlement country;
- community and media attitudes towards refugees;
- experiences with access to employment, education, housing and community services;
- experiences with racism and discrimination.
Although, young people show increased integration with time in resettlement countries, they also report higher levels of discrimination and racism as they spent more time in host countries. Racism can be an ever-present reality for many children and youth, manifesting as implicit or explicit experiences, and can have a detrimental impact on a young person’s sense of identity, belonging, physical and mental health.
Planning for children and youth
Contributions from and participation of refugee children and youth
Meaningful participation and engagement Global Compact on Refugees and Compact for Young People of refugee children and youth in program design as well as service delivery is required to address the diverse and specific needs they have and is vital for a successful integration. They should be seen as partners and should be equipped with the knowledge, skills, and resources to effectively participate and influence planning and service delivery.
They are often better placed to identify their needs and should be supported to identify and advocate for solutions. While education and successful transitions to employment are important steps in realisation of integration of children and youth, their integration is about supporting their aspirations which are far broader. Approaches that focus on prioritizing their participation, respecting their rights, and valuing and addressing their aspirations are key.
Approaches to meaningfully engage youth in integration policy and practice
Mayor of London and Refugee Youth Organisation. As part of the development process for the Mayor of London’s Refugee Integration Strategy, a refugee youth-led organisation provided inputs through applying participatory action research (PAR). Unlike traditional research approaches, PAR is ‘insider’ research, conducted by and for the people it directly impacts.See the final research, Becoming a LondonerMYAN Not Just “Ticking a Box”: Youth participation with young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds is a publication which serves as a comprehensive guide for organisations in engaging and enhancing the participation of young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds. Converging theory and practice, the resource includes a participation model outlining barriers, opportunities and ways to address barriers to the participation of young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds, examples of good practice through national and local case studies and a practical top tips and checklist section.
Strengthening family support and promoting positive family relationships
Providing support to refugee families and parents is a vital strategy to facilitate the integration of refugee children and youth.
It is important to be aware when developing programs for refugee children and youth, that child welfare practices and services for children and youth are sometimes perceived by resettled refugee families as contributing to intergenerational division and conflict. As refugee children and youth start to negotiate family relationships in the context of newly introduced concepts of independence, autonomy, freedom and child/youth rights in the host country, there may be fears from family and community about loss of culture. The roles of responsibility that children and youth often have to take on in the resettlement country can impact on power and authority previously held by adult family members.
Refugee parents and caregivers are also likely going through the transition phase themselves and will need to adjust to the new environment, but also provide primary care and support to their children amid any potential parenting challenges. Service providers can play a catalytic role in fostering positive relationships and outcomes during the integration process for the entire family.
Factors affecting family support for refugee childrenand young people
- The practical and emotional demands of integration on adult caregivers may impact on their ability to provide support.
- Parents may lack the language skills and knowledge to support children in their adjustment to a new society and school system, and to act as their children’s advocates.
- There may be significant differences in child rearing practices between countries-of-origin and resettlement, particularly in the areas of child welfare and discipline. These differences may affect parents’ understanding of, and interactions with, systems in the receiving society, such as childcare facilities and schools. Intergenerational conflict may occur as children and young people seek to exercise the greater range of rights and freedoms that may become available to them in their new country.
- Children and youth tend to acquire the language and learn the ways of the receiving society more rapidly than adults and may be called upon to interpret and mediate with systems in the receiving society on behalf of their parents. As well as adding to the pressures on children and youth, this ‘role reversal’ can affect the power and dependency dynamics that form the basis of a supportive relationship between children and their adult caregivers. Children and youth’s more rapid adaptation may also contribute to intergenerational conflict.
Technical assistance and specialised planning resources
Some countries have established or fund organisations which provide support and technical assistance (including consultation, professional development and sector development tools) to teachers, health care providers, childcare workers, youth workers and social support agencies serving refugee children and youth and their families. Similarly, special planning units in government education, health, child welfare, social services and employment departments exist to ensure that broader planning processes accommodate the needs of refugee and immigrant children and youth.
Youth-specific organisations may also provide support to young people using culturally responsive frameworks while at the same time supporting mainstream and integration service delivery to refugee youth. These organisations may also support and represent the rights and interests of refugee youth with a focus on policy, advocacy and sector development activities.
Specialised organisations and bodies can help to build the capacity of systems to respond to the needs of refugee children and youth and their families in an ongoing manner.
MYAN National Youth Settlement Framework is an example for a strategy aimed directly at integration of refugee youth in Australia. The Framework was developed with close involvement of young people and community organizations working to support integration of refugee and migrant youth.
Video - Canada
The Youth Network is guided by the principle of being youth-led. The Youth Network seeks to center and amplify the voices of refugee and newcomer youth in programs, settlement organizations, and policy.
Settings and partnership approaches
Planning for refugee children and youth needs to take account of a range of issues, including their health and psychosocial health and development, educational progress, language acquisition, social support, employment and training opportunities. The priority areas of support, as well as mode of delivery of such support, where relevant, should be determined with the active participation of children and youth, based on their needs.
Reflecting this, most resettlement countries have employed partnership approaches to address the needs of children and youth, to ensure that the skills and resources of a range of communities, professionals and systems, as well as national child and youth structures, are engaged in delivering support.
Partnerships with civil society, faith-based organizations, and the media, including social media need to be established to build and strengthen connections between resettled refugees and receiving communities based on mutual respect and understanding. This partnership approach also needs to take into account and include receiving community members in key forums and processes.
Youth work with refugees
Council of Europe – European Commission - Guidelines on working with young refugees and migrants. Fostering cross-sectoral co-operation
Offering the best conditions for educational success
Video - UK
Please see here for considerations for education.
Integration case management
Early integration support offers the opportunity to assess the need for and provide support to refugees as individuals and as families. While the focus is generally placed on economic self-reliance and basic practical concerns, efforts should be made to ensure that the specific needs of children and youth are not overlooked.
Children, youth and their families should be encouraged to utilise the services available. Integration service providers should ensure that services are accessible, child- and youth-friendly and culturally appropriate. Integration service providers may opt to establish individual plans for youth in different areas of integration aligned with their aspirations. It is important to obtain parental consent prior to conducting a separate assessment with children.
Language assistance should be made available by service providers for refugee children, youth and their families early on upon arrival. As children and youth tend to learn a second language more rapidly than adult refugees they are often called upon to interpret and liaise with service providers in the resettlement country on behalf of other family members. This may place an undue burden on children and youth hence the importance of ensuring that adequate provision is made for language assistance and adult language training.
Access to language training for the entire family will ensure better literacy outcomes for children and youth.
Culturally sensitive and targeted school-based language programs will be important for children and youth in schools. Young people over the age of compulsory schooling and/or out of school will otherwise be dependent on language and integration programs designed for adults, which often do not meet their needs. Some countries provide youth-specific language courses.
Alternative language training programs combined with bridging education programs for refugee youth approaching or over the age of majority who wish to resume basic education are needed to engage this sub-group in order to prepare them for employment or further education. This also includes vocational and/or occupation specific language training.
As covered in the orientation section, the information included in orientation programs and materials will depend on a range of factors including the needs and ages of refugee participants. Wherever possible, orientation programs should be designed with the participation of and feedback from children and youth who have previously been resettled. Providing orientation through specific settings can also help reach refugees that may not otherwise participate in more formal programs (for example, refugee youth may be more readily reached through school settings or youth clubs).
A number of countries have also developed special and targeted orientation programs for refugee youth addressing such issues as education and employment, peer pressure, online/cyber safety, drug use, health and mental health issues, including and sexual and reproductive health, racism and discrimination, volunteering, sports and recreational activities, and intergenerational conflict.
When seeking employment, refugee youth may face similar challenges as their adult counterparts. Job search and career guidance and career planning programs for refugee youth, both in and out-of-school are imperative to prepare them for employment. Partnerships between schools, language training providers, employers and industry leaders are needed to provide refugee youth with opportunities to get to know the local job market and manage their expectations.
Vocational training programs for youth with no or disrupted education are also vital to increase their chances of employment.