Helping child migrants

Updated: Sep 20, 2019

We’ve all seen stories in the news of unaccompanied children arriving in this country without family, without support, without anything more than the clothes they stand up in. And while our hearts go out to them, what are we actually doing to help?

Thankfully, because as a region we work well together, the answer is, quite a lot. While each local authority looks after the immediate needs of young people in their care, the newly founded Migration Forum is looking at ways to identify needs early on and put programmes in place to help with the ongoing and complex support these young people require.

The Forum brings together the West Midland’s region’s councils and trusts with the West Midlands Strategic Migration Partnership (WMSMP) to oversee a £1.9 million the grant from the Continuing Migration Fund. Grants allocated for the programmes is £867,000 across the 14 Local Authorities with an additional £547,000 granted to 8 Voluntary organisations for sustainability beyond the lifespan of the programme. £288,000 is being spent on information, advice, guidance, training and development. In July 2019 the forum signed off training grants of £10,500 for each authority and allocated £50,000 to WMSMP to coordinate the voluntary sector training. Telford & Wrekin, Warwickshire and Wolverhampton also received top-ups to their programmes, taking the total amount being directly spent on supporting unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) to £1.4 million.

We know that these young people have often been through great trauma and personal loss. They may have witnessed or been subject to violence and aggression, and yet they find themselves alone in a strange country with no family or resources to call on, often not speaking the language at all. They are lost, they are alone and carrying emotional trauma which needs healing.

It’s not easy but we know we can address each of these issues, whether it’s through ESOL classes to improve their language skills, counselling and support around mental health, or just helping them to feel part of their community and that they have a place and a future here.

Each local authority is using this money to deliver support to their young people based on their need. Wolverhampton is focussing on mental health support, Solihull on creating a sense of community and personal pride and growth through the Duke of Edinburgh scheme.

The voluntary sector programmes are targeting where the greatest need is and looking to take on the work begun by the local authorities after their programmes finish under the guidance of the West Midlands Strategic Migration Partnership who manage the needs of our UASC across the region.

Alongside this practical support for our young people, we are also undertaking some innovative training and development for professionals which will help us to identify and address issues early on. Whether it’s a doctors receptionist picking up on an aside as an appointment is made, a teacher recognising additional language support is needed or a social worker being able to identify the signs of PTSD and putting mental health support in place, the learning and development will help professionals at all levels.

This training and early intervention approach is something we should all be really proud of. Nobody else is doing this work, we are the first region to look at how we can develop our staff and frontline services to recognise signs of need and look at ways young people can access support. We’ve shown that we know how to look beyond our own patch, working with other local authorities, public health colleagues, the voluntary sector and government bodies to pull together an ambitious and wide-reaching approach to this issue.

While our own staff will benefit and be rolling this out immediately, we will be sharing what we learn at a national level. The immediate impact of this will be seen in the autumn when we launch our online UASC Awareness module this October. This will be accessible for anyone who is working with unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) and is being produced by subject matter experts from IOM UN Migration with Learning Pool providing the instructional design and platform.

Walsall Council are coordinating the more intensive training and development and have received an additional £40,000 to coordinate advanced training and a tutor training course which will start this autumn.

We will shortly be appointing an external evaluator to measure the impact and difference these interventions have made and the best practice we can share. This will come together in a celebration event in the Spring of 2020.

The Migration Forum has proved that if you give a region the funds, they can target the resources to get the best efficiency and effectiveness. Through working together we increase the chance of better lives for these incredibly vulnerable children and young people.

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