New report reveals how refugee children are missing out - Refugee Council
June 14, 2002

New report reveals how refugee children are missing out

The Children’s Society, the Refugee Council and Save the Children are to publish a new report on the experiences of refugee children in England. A Case for Change: How refugee children are missing out is the result of research into the lives of refugee children and young people in England, conducted over the period October 2001 to March 2002. For the first time, the systematic collection of data will enable the organisations to develop a body of evidence to highlight some of the key issues affecting many young refugees.

The aim of the monitoring project was to find out where children and young people live, in what type of accommodation, and to record the difficulties they encounter in accessing services such as education and social services.

The key findings of the project show that refugee children and young people in England receive inadequate support from social services, have problems accessing health services and education, have serious concerns about being dispersed when turning 18 and are subject to problems related to age disputes and detention.

Inadequate social services support

  • 13 out of 90 unaccompanied refugee children had no access to social services support at all.

  • 31 out of 90 unaccompanied refugee children received support under Section 17 of the Children Act. The majority of those provided with such support had been placed in semi-independent or hostel accommodation or unsupported housing.

  • Just 21 out of 90 unaccompanied refugee children were provided with care under Section 20 of the Children Act which affords a more protective level of care.

Dispersal at 18

The report shows that many young people experience serious anxieties about the prospect of turning 18, including concerns about being dispersed. The prospect of this change causes insecurity and isolation and some young people are so scared that they take drastic action. One young person who was to be dispersed chose to ‘disappear’ rather than be separated from his friends, college and support network.

Age disputes and detention

For a variety of reasons, many refugees and asylum seekers do not have documentary proof of their age when they arrive in a country of asylum; millions of births around the world are not registered, so children may not have documentary proof of their age or even know their exact date of birth. The report shows that many young people have their age disputed by Social Services and/or the Home Office. The most common implication of being disputed by the Home Office is detention.


  • A key problem was the length of time refugee children and young people had to wait for an appropriate place in school or college.

  • Many young people at college were on part-time courses although they would have preferred to be studying more hours.

  • Eight young people were in ‘alternative’ accommodation and often the only option offered was to study part-time and separately from local young people, with whom they would like to integrate.

Judith Dennis, author of A Case For Change and Policy Adviser for unaccompanied children at the Refugee Council said:

“What is clear from our findings is that some refugee children are getting a raw deal and are missing out on essential help and support, making it very difficult for them to manage their new life in this country.

“Policy makers need to take on board the consequences of their policies on young refugees’ lives, recognising the unique nature of this vulnerable group. One major issue that this report revealed is that systems designed for adults are being applied to children and young people with devastating effect. Though we recognise the acute pressure and financial constraints on service providers, we hope that the recommendations of this report will help them improve the situation for all young refugees.”

Download a copy of A Case for Change: How refugee children in England are missing out. You will need Adobe Acrobat to download the report, which you can get free by clicking on the icon below.