We must do more for the many children fleeing Syria.
Of an estimated 12million Syrians displaced by war, more than half are children. Tens of thousands of them will be fleeing alone, as their parents may have been killed or they have been separated.
The UK’s decision to offer sanctuary to these children is right. We will then have a solemn responsibility to protect the lives of these traumatised children while they are in our country’s care.
Our Government should urgently prioritise specialist, tailored care required by the unique circumstances of refugee children. These children need, and deserve, a decent place to live with the right people and support.
Firstly, the Government needs specialist staff to identify the type of support these children need. Some will need help for trauma or mental health. They need to ensure that children stay in sensitive, loving foster homes while they live in the country, and that each foster carer has been specially trained to nurture them.
That will mean they stay in appropriate accommodation too. Shockingly, many unaccompanied and potentially trafficked children end up staying in bed and breakfasts without much support. As a result, two-thirds go missing from care, putting them in danger from traffickers or predatory adults.
Secondly, we must ensure every child is treated as a child. Most of these children will be travelling undocumented so officials must judge if they are under 18.
Finally, we need to make sure these children are supported in their transition to adulthood. We are worried that the period after the age of 18 is a particularly vulnerable time for unaccompanied young people as they lose support from children’s services.
At Barnardo’s we have specialist staff that could provide the critical ‘triage’ that newly-arrived children and young people will need. We also have trained foster carers to look after unaccompanied children.
Trafficked children and young people are supported by our independent advocates, who will guide children every step of the way – navigating the care system to have a secure home and immigration processes to have the right to stay.
The Government and local authorities should draw on such expertise.
Our hope at Barnardo’s is that the people of the UK can support these children so they can imagine a safe future.