Aims The year 2015 has seen the most significant influx of asylum seekers reaching European shores, with close to a million expected by the end of the year. Around 2000 unaccompanied and separated children arrive in the UK every year, yet in the 3rd quarter of 2015 947 children arrived, a 72% increase on the same quarter in 2014. This paper elicits the physical and psychological health needs of unaccompanied asylum seeking children in the UK.
Method Based on qualitative and quantitative data, this research gives an early account of the effect of the refugee crisis on the health of unaccompanied minors reaching British shores. Based on data collected in Kent County, through unstructured questionnaires with child health practitioners and statistical data from case files, together with two case studies one focusing on physical health needs and another on safeguarding concerns, this study develops a health profile of this unique vulnerable population.
Results Over 800 unaccompanied children have arrived in Kent County in 2015, an increase of 400% from the first four months of the year. Out of the group of 75 presenting in a particular clinic, many have come with scabies, anaemia, malaria, typhoid, active hepatitis, vision problems (47%) and dental decay (65%). Most have not received, or do not have adequate records of, vaccination. Abnormal physical findings are present in 76%, and in 94% of cases the assessing clinician was concerned about the young person’s mental health. 82% of the children have lost parents to war and the journey. The largest independent living centre is 150% oversubscribed, increasing the workload on staff and diluting the positive effects of the service for the service users themselves, and increasing the risk of further trauma or exploitation.
Conclusions This study indicates three key needs. The first a better understanding of the health needs – physical, psychological, short and long term of unaccompanied children. The second, the rapid development of human resources trained to address the needs of unaccompanied minors; finally, a system for dispersal of unaccompanied children to ensure their best interests of the child can be truly observed, particularly in relation to their ongoing wellbeing and safeguarding.
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