Of an estimated 12 million Syrians displaced by war, more than half are children, tens of thousands of whom will be fleeing alone.
The UK’s decision to offer sanctuary to some of these children is right, and we have a solemn responsibility to protect the fragile lives of these traumatised children while they are in our country’s care. Our government should urgently prioritise the specialist care required by the unique circumstances of refugee children.
Firstly the government needs specialist staff to immediately identify the type of support these children need, and ensure that children stay in sensitive, loving foster homes whilst they live in the country.
Secondly, we must ensure that every child is treated as a child – not an adult. Most of these children will be travelling undocumented so officials must judge if they are under 18 and ensure they are not unfairly denied access to local authority care.
Finally, these children must be supported in their transition to adulthood and independence. Turning 18 can be a particularly vulnerable time as unaccompanied young people lose support from children’s services.
Learning to cope with the horrors these young people have witnessed is an obvious need. A more subtle need will be learning to cope with life in the UK, perhaps alone without the support of their family.
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 trainedfoster carers to look after unaccompanied children seeking asylum, and independent advocates to help children navigate the care system and immigration processes. The government and local authorities should draw on such experience and expertise in putting together the package of support to help refugee children.
As a father of four, I find it difficult to think about the ordeal that these vulnerable children have, and will, live through. We owe it to them, their parents, and to ourselves to treat them as we would want our own children to be treated."
Read the full blog on the New Statesman website