The Children’s Society on Monday released a new report looking at the mental health struggles of unaccompanied young asylum seekers, refugees and migrants.
The report provides an overview of what is currently known about the mental health needs of unaccompanied young people living in England and Wales. It brings together research on mental health outcomes for vulnerable young people, with a specific focus on unaccompanied young people and emerging good practice models for supporting them within local authorities and mental health services. It also considers how the best interests of young people can be protected in assessments and decisions about their care, and how their voice and needs can be appropriately centred.
The Children’s Society says the report is intended as a resource for parliamentarians, policy makers, commissioners, local authorities and others to provide information on the needs of unaccompanied young people and the ways in which they could adapt services and ways of working to better support them. It is also intended to provide information for social care professionals, educators, legal professionals, NGOs, researchers and others that have an interest in the needs of unaccompanied young people.
Overall, the report finds that mental health support available for unaccompanied young people under the current system is not effectively meeting their needs.
The key findings from the report are as follows:
• The effects of the traumatic events that young people have faced prior to their arrival in the UK can continue to affect them for substantial periods of time through a range of symptoms, such as flashbacks, sleep disturbances, memory impairment, anger and disruptive behaviour, self-harm and even suicide.
• Once young people are in the UK, their mental health can deteriorate if they face barriers in settling their lives and their long-term prospects.
• Self-harm and suicide pose a grave risk for these young people, especially if they are not receiving holistic support. More needs to be done to understand these risks and the network of support that would help to combat them.
• The strengths and difficulties questionnaire (SDQ) – which is the most commonly used tool for identifying an unaccompanied young person’s need for mental health support once they arrive into care – is not identifying their mental health needs adequately. Our data analysis has found that, in spite of the acute mental health issues that unaccompanied young people might be facing, the average SDQ total difficulties score for looked after unaccompanied young people is low and suggests they would have little need for mental health support.
• Lack of awareness and training among paediatricians, GPs, social workers and other professionals working closely with young people lead hinder identification of mental health need among unaccompanied young people.
• Language used to communicate with unaccompanied young people about their mental health needs is often inadequate. This is due to insufficient translation facilities within services and lack of education about mental health issues with the young people themselves. In order to ensure that young people can fully communicate their needs, extensive support is required even after they have been referred into mental health support.
• Immigration and asylum processes to regularise unaccompanied young people’s immigration status in the UK are creating stress and mental health difficulties among young people.
• The Government policies that have created the Hostile Environment have made it more difficult for young people to access NHS services and education. Cuts to legal aid are also creating additional barriers for unaccompanied young people, which can create further mental health distress.