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Caring for child refugees has seen local authority services in the UK face new challenges.

Councils have asked for extra government funding to help, with a National Transfer Scheme established to distribute children throughout the country. Meanwhile, fostering organisations have appealed for families to offer homes to unaccompanied refugee children.

Massive response to child refugee crisis

Figures show that the Nordic countries – Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Denmark – have taken in a disproportionate number of unaccompanied young refugees compared to the rest of Europe.

Migration and social care agencies in those countries have had to react quickly and adapt and respond as they were faced with unprecedented circumstances in trying to ensure these children arriving from war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan or North Africa, are provided with the care they need at such a vulnerable point in their young lives.

Of these, Sweden took by far the largest number, welcoming 35,369 children into its communities. In Åsele in the north of the country, for example, 10% of schoolchildren are unaccompanied minors.

Learning opportunities for the UK

Their systems have been able to offer a learning opportunity for authorities in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.

In her report “Society’s Reception of Unaccompanied Minors in the Nordics” focussing on Nordic countries’ reception of minors, Anna Gärdegård, a project leader at the Nordic Welfare Centre in Sweden, explained that with no systems in place for such numbers, Nordic nations had to swiftly develop strategies to respond.

She said:

The centre launched a project for unaccompanied minors in 2016 and while acknowledging that the needs and challenges can be different in each country, also felt that countries can benefit from each other’s experiences. The project started by examining areas of knowledge that should be developed.

“Examples of questions to be addressed are; how does society meet the children’s needs? How is the reception and care arranged in the various Nordic countries? What does their living situation look like? Do they have access to schools and health care,?” explained Gärdegård.

Britain follows Swedish model

The majority of the children arriving in the UK and claiming asylum are teenage boys from Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, Albania, Iran, and Iraq.

With unaccompanied children coming under the care of local authorities with the majority placed with experienced foster carers, Britain decided to follow a model similar to Sweden.
Rather than the area where the child asylum seekers arrive being responsible for handling their reception and long-term care, that county arranges for unaccompanied minors to be transferred elsewhere in the country via the National Transfer Scheme.

While in Denmark and Finland, immigration departments retain responsibility, Gärdegård believes making the children the responsibility of council social services departments is a better solution.

Norway has worked hard to place unaccompanied minors in normal school classes, supplemented with extra lessons and language support, while Nordic countries also offer the arrivals legal representation.

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