On 20 November, the day that the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, in 1959, and the Convention of the Rights of the Child, in 1989, the world marks Universal Children’s Day. Such a day should remind the international community and civil society that in many contexts children and minors continue to be a group in a condition of particular vulnerability.
According to UNICEF, in Central and Eastern Europe alone, almost 1.5 million children live in public care, while if we look at the migration phenomenon, an estimated 2–5% of the refugee population are unaccompanied children.
In Spain, one in four children lives in a poor household, with school dropout and school failure affecting 29.6% of the children, twice the European rate. Here, the Spanish Red Cross is increasing its actions aimed at supporting families and children in situations of difficulty: foster care is one of them.
With more than 20 years experience in foster care, over the last year the Spanish Red Cross administered over 1000 interventions in 21 provinces, with the involvement of more than 4000 people and a strong support of local authorities and the volunteers of the National Society.
“The purpose of the project is to provide children who for various reasons were separated from their own families with the opportunity to be in a family, either temporarily, until the problems which generated the separation are resolved, or permanently, in order to help them develop as a person” says Carlos Chana, responsible for childhood programs in the Spanish Red Cross. “The new environment should help kids get over the situation produced by family separation and improve their personal and family conditions.”
“Families undergo a training course, so that they have an overall picture of what foster care is: from how to handle the very first phase when minors are fitting into the new environment, to how to solve possible problems which might arise and, not least, how to face the farewell moment, when children leave foster parents to go back to their family of origin” says Raquel Lozano Cabello, psychologist of the foster care programme. “Such training course was designed for all families: any kind of family can foster a child, provided that they are sufficiently motivated to foster children, they are economically self-sustaining and they have enough time to look after them”.
In its work with minors, the Danish Red Cross works from a different perspective. Located on a well-beaten migration route, Denmark witnesses the transit of numerous unaccompanied minors on its territories, who, exposed to trafficking and in a condition of increased vulnerability, are in need of special protection and care.
For 25 years now, the Danish Red Cross has taken care of the reception and first steps of unaccompanied minors in its 6 Asylum Centres: In Sjælsmark reception Centre staff members welcome children and adolescents and create a safe environment, while authorities decide on their asylum cases. Minors are then sent to the one of the other 5 centres, where they stay up to 8-9 months, until they either receive permission to stay in the country, or they move to an adult centre after turning 18, or they are forced to move to another country according to the Dublin Convention. As of November 2010, approximately 400 children under 18 are living in six different Red Cross centres. In addition to that, another some 90 minors are living in two municipal centres.
The protection and care of unaccompanied minors poses a series of challenges to the National Society, not least the constant risk of minors being trafficked or just disappearing: data of 2009 shows that 190 (31%) of the then 602 minors received by the Danish Red Cross had disappeared.
In order to guarantee them the highest degree of protection and assistance, since 2003 all unaccompanied minors have been offered a guardian. Currently there are some 100 guardians in the Danish Red Cross, 91 volunteers and 3-4 professionals, who, working in close cooperation with the Asylum centres, provide constant assistance and advice to the minors, supporting them in their interviews with the immigration and the police and making sure they do not suffer from ill treatment.
“Guardians are a precious resource in our work with minors. They often establish an emotional connection with the youngsters they take care of, supporting them in every step they take during their permanence in the Asylum centres” commented Gitte Nielsen, Head of the Asylum Centres for unaccompanied minors of the Danish Red Cross.