The purpose of the individual needs assessment is to define which support measures are in the best interests of the child. The needs assessment should be carried out by a multidisciplinary team in cooperation with the guardian and with the participation of others. This could include health professionals, child protection services or social workers, child psychologists, accommodation facility/care workers and teachers.
Children are at risk of abuse, violence and exploitation – unaccompanied children in particular. Part of your task as a guardian is to assess these risks and to prevent abuse, violence and exploitation by choosing appropriate protection measures. Looking at the child and the circumstances they are in, you will constantly use your expertise and logic to do a risk assessment. Checklists have also been developed that will help you to see the whole picture and to make sure that no signs are overlooked or misinterpreted.
The guardian should draw up an individual plan for the child based on the needs and risk assessment. This plan should take into account individual needs, risks and possible traumatising experiences to which the child may have been exposed. It should give due weight to the child’s views. The child may be involved in drawing up the plan, depending on their age and maturity. It is the guardian’s task to facilitate child participation by providing the child with adequate information and ensuring that their views are heard and given due weight. The plan should always be discussed with the child, and his or her agreement should be sought. Although an assessment of the child’s needs and risks will need to start from the moment a guardian is assigned, the individual plan for the child should be drawn up only after the guardian has a good understanding of the child’s needs, risks and wishes. The plan should be reviewed and adjusted at regular intervals.
An individual plan should include at least the following core elements:
- Accommodation arrangements
- Safety and protection measures
- Relationship with the parents
- Social and psychological counselling and access to mental health services
- Healthcare provision and medical treatment
- Legal counselling and legal representation
- Education, including language training
- Migration status and international protection needs
Tools and training
Tool: checklist of possible actions by the guardian in relation to the child’s safety
- Inform the child about existing protection measures that could be taken.
- Request a risk assessment for the child.
- Actively participate in the risk assessment process along with representatives of other relevant authorities, law enforcement officials and the child’s legal representative.
- Regularly assess the risk that the child may go missing from care.
- Ensure that the views of the child are heard and given due weight, depending on their age and maturity.
- Inform the relevant authorities when new information is available related to the child’s safety which might require changes to the protection measures applied.
- Request that the risk assessment be reviewed and documented if new information surfaces which may require different or additional measures.
- Ensure that the relevant authorities are notified without delay of a child’s disappearance and that efforts are made to find the child.
- If a victim of trafficking is a third-country national, regularly remind all authorities involved not to share information on the child’s status as a victim of trafficking with the authorities in the country of origin before the risk assessment is finalised.
Individual needs tool: BIC instrument on conditions for upbringing
The Dutch professor Kalverboer has developed the BIC-model (Best Interest of the Child), that specifies 14 conditions for good development. The basic assumption is that if all conditions are met, a favourable development of the child is guaranteed and we can speak of safety. This model is the basic way of working for diagnostic pedagogic assessments at the ‘Study Centre for Children, Migration and Law’ at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. It helps to outline the quality of the educational environment of the child and compare it with alternative situations. Decision-making in favour of the environment with the highest quality provides the child with development opportunities and is in their interest. The BIC-model has been adapted for unaccompanied children and can be found here.
Individual needs tool: SDQ – Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ)
The SDQ is a short screening list that measures the psychological problems and skills of children aged 2 to 17 years. There are different versions: one for teachers, one for parents and one for the child. The expertise centre at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands has had good experiences with using the SDQ for refugee children. The list is easy to score and is available in several languages. You can find the SDQ here.
Tool: screening instruments for unaccompanied asylum seeking children
A Dutch longitudinal research project (2001-2004) determined the level of psychological distress of unaccompanied children, their need for mental healthcare, the availability of mental healthcare for this group and, finally, the connection between all of these factors. The results of this research project give insight into the way accessibility of professional mental healthcare can be improved for unaccompanied children. A secondary aim of the project was to validate and standardise the screening instruments for this group. The instruments are suited for making a quick inventory of symptoms experienced by refugee children and adolescents. You can find them here.
Tool: guidelines for assessing suicidal intent
Nidos in the Netherlands has developed guidelines for guardians to assess suicidal intent. These guidelines are based on guidelines developed by Ad Kerkhof, Dutch professor of Clinical Psychology, Psychopathology and Suicide Prevention. You will find the tool here.
Tool: checklist for signs of human trafficking
Nidos also developed a checklist with ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ signs of human trafficking, based on literature and experiences. This list is useful during the first meeting with the child after their arrival, and for any other moment during the guardianship when you may need to decide on appropriate protection measures, like moving the child to a protected shelter. The list can be found on page 34 of the ALFACA-manual.
Tool: steps that can be taken to identify and protect children who may have been trafficked
In the UK, ECPAT describes in ‘Lighting the way’ (2017) the steps that lawyers, legal guardians and child trafficking advocates in the UK can take to better identify and protect children who may have been trafficked. The report offers practical guidance for professionals and authorities to improve the care of these children. You will find the tool here.
Tool: guidance on determining the best interests of the child
The UNHCR Guidelines on Determining the Best Interests of the Child‘ (2008) and the UNHCR and International Rescue Committee Field handbook for the implementation of UNHCR BID guidelines‘ (2011), provide comprehensive guidance to responsible authorities and practitioners involved in decision-making and explain how to apply the best interests’ principle in practice, when identifying and implementing durable solutions for unaccompanied children. They both describe how to use a BIA and BID form.
Tool: toolkit on guidance for unaccompanied Eritrean children in the Netherlands
In 2018, the Dutch Veerkracht (resilience) project, set up by Nidos and Arq Psychotrauma Expert Group and run as part of the Dutch AMIF (Asylum, Migration & Integration Fund) programme, developed a useful toolkit (in Dutch) on guidance for unaccompanied Eritrean children. The toolkit provides knowledge, insights, concrete tips and tools for supporting the resilience and independence of unaccompanied children.
Training: massive Online Open Course for Children on the Move (MOOC4CoM)
The Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS), based at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, with the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University and other partners, are offering an online open course from 2019. The training will help workers adopt a ‘do no harm’ and best interests approach, preventing and protecting children from violence through appropriate care options that are in line with international standards. The MOOC aims to increase the knowledge of front-line workers and support improved practices as they make decisions about the care and best interest of children on the move. More information can be found here.
Policy guidelines on protection of children from violence
in 2009, the Council of Europe developed policy guidelines on integrated national strategies for the protection of children from violence. You can find them here.
Guidance on prevention and response to unaccompanied children going missing
The SUMMIT-project handbook (2016) describes how to prevent and respond to unaccompanied children going missing. It also provides practical templates and checklists. It is available here.
Germany: permission form before travelling
JSN, the organisation providing guardianship for unaccompanied children in the German region of Süd-Niedersachsen (Southern Lower Saxony), has created a tool to ensure the child’s safety and protect them from trafficking when they want to travel.
A guardian or social worker fills in a form together with the child, noting name, address and phone number of the person they want to visit, before giving permission to travel. The guardian or social worker has to contact that person and check the address. Youth welfare organisations from different municipalities cooperate in this procedure to avoid human trafficking. You can find the form here.
The Scottish Guardianship Service is a project run by Scottish Refugee Council in partnership with Aberlour Childcare Trust, both experts in their fields. The service offers face-to-face support and outreach support for all separated children in Scotland who have made themselves known to the authorities. It also supports local authorities and external agencies, providing information, advice and guidance about children in the asylum and immigration processes. The overall aim of the service is to improve the separated child’s experience and understanding of the immigration and welfare processes, and to ensure they receive services appropriate to their needs and entitlements. The Guardianship Service has developed a practice manual that also contains a useful grid for mapping out key domains in a child’s life that can have an impact on their resilience. This tool can help to identify strengths and build up the weaker areas in a child’s life. You can find the grid on page 19 of the Practice Manual.