The plight of unaccompanied migrant children has been attracting much media attention in recent days and political capital is being made about the Government’s disinclination to set an early number on how many children it is willing to admit, whether those accepted are best drawn from the refugee camps of Syria, and whether the proposed 3000 are within, or in addition to, the Government commitment to accept 20,000 refugees in all.
It is very easy to express anger at an apparent slowness of pace, and this is but one of many issues where “virtue signalling” becomes widespread.
Given the current net migration figure of 333,000 per annum, the number involved looks very small but anyone with experience of such matters will have begun unpacking the complexity of the task that is in prospect.
Each year the Child Protection Services of England and Wales are already charged with the task of finding new homes for some thousands of children removed from their UK birth families, by reason of either an actually or perceived risk of “significant harm”.
It is a task which they find very difficult to keep up with. The entire process of advertising for carers, providing them with relevant information , meeting, vetting, matching volunteers and then introducing individual children to their possible carers, is both complex and time consuming. Even after placement there is a considerable necessity to monitor and follow up; some children will have ongoing therapeutic needs given their experience of broken family.
A significant number of such placements, whether temporary foster carers or long term adopters, fail, with particularly damaging results to the child concerned.
Older children are notoriously difficult to place, not least because they tend to have longer histories of disturbance and/or rejection. Failed placements hit these young people especially hard.
In the final stages of Care Proceedings, where Placement Orders are considered. Courts are regularly reminded – and if not , many Judges remind themselves that – “The State is a notoriously bad parent”.
Look at the statistics of young people falling into crime, substance abuse, homelessness, depression or self harm and you will find those with a history of State Care significantly over represented within that cohort.
The young girls abused by the Rotherham sex abusers were all in State Care, and as we now hear of a young Swedish volunteer murdered by a 15 year old refugee, we see that the venue of the attack was a hurriedly put together hostel to “warehouse” young people whose numbers have overwhelmed the normal assessment processes with appropriate risk management.
In the UK we already have a significant “backlog” of unplaced children numbering several thousand. Distasteful as it is to say, certain children are more “marketable” when it comes to securing stable long term homes. The new born are plainly easier to place than those with a history of psychological disturbance and multiple placement breakdown.
Every would be substitute parent has a choice, and whilst there are saints – many drawn from the Christian community – who will deliberately take in the child with restricted life span or acute disability, there are a large number of children who struggle to find suitable matching.
Again it is distasteful to record, but it is a fact, that mixed race children are over represented in the cohort of those still awaiting placement. The arrival of new children into the pool of those awaiting new families will negatively impact upon those who have already been waiting too long ,
Any consideration of the acceptance of refugee children needs to take place in the knowledge of such facts as they stand on the ground.
“Calling for” children to be admitted is easy; managing their arrival involves a huge logistical exercise for a system that was already struggling before the problem of unaccompanied refugee children presented itself.
Many of the new children will present specific problems.
They may come from multiple cultures. Do we try and match them, as was always regarded as a proper approach?
Do we try to place a Muslim child with a Muslim carer? Leaving aside Sunni/Shia complexity, many of our own Muslim families come from the Indian sub-continent. Not only is there a massive cultural and linguistic divide, but those cultures do not have a tradition of fostering and adoption – in difficult cases within such communities extended family routinely steps in.
There is no criticism behind this, simply a recognition that matching is not straightforward if one begins to apply the usual standards of finding suitable matches to maximise the prospects of success.
Are we going to place such children with gay couples? How will that play out if the young people are kept in touch with their ethnic communities in some fashion, or do we abandon any attempt at cultural sensitivity?
Many of these children will have had very traumatic experiences. Will the well meaning volunteers be up to the task that their kindness leads them towards? The full measure of the impact of this was brought home to Brother Ivo when he recently read that since 1999 over 130,000 US War veterans have committed suicide.
Will we warn would-be carers of the full gamut of problems which they may encounter?
Some of the children will have learned a hard form of independence, having already lost a capacity to trust, a steely self reliance and possibly a recourse to sexual manipulation, which may come as a shock to carers, as behaviour is exhibited either towards other children in the household or the carers themselves. This is especially the case where children have been rescued from traffickers.
Many of the children will have learnt to act beyond their years and be unwilling or unable to give up the self confidence that got them across Europe. Some will claim to be younger than their true age whilst, counter intuitively, others will pretend to be older to preserve a degree of self determination. Giving over your hard won self determination to complete strangers may not come easy.
All of the considerations – and more – will come into play as real desperate needs cry out to be met.
Brother Ivo’s is not a voice against meeting the needs of such vulnerable children, but if those charged with making the plan work seem slow, cautious, or bureaucratic, we must appreciate that getting a good outcome must be the first priority.
Making it up as we go along is not a good strategy.
A successfully integrated outcome of rescued children akin to those who benefitted from the Kindertransport programme of the 1930’s is one to be aspired to. Many of the dispossessed children we are now looking to take will have much greater histories of trauma than the who were sent from Nazi Germany.
If we do not meet the children’s needs in a broad, well planned individually considered, long term fashion, we shall simply produce a resentful cohort of angry, let down ,adolescents ripe for radicalisation and resentment.
It is more important to implement the right measures than simple to admit numbers to satisfy our desire to feel good about ourselves. We should get on with the task purposefully, but not without careful planning and proper resourcing.
Compassion is not enough.