Unaccompanied minors’ needs and the child welfare response

Mara Sanfelici, Barry Wellman, Silvana Mordeglia - Journal of Social Work



This study examines a sample of 1705 cases of unaccompanied and separated children (UASCs) included in a pilot project for early recovery child protection intervention. The project was started in two Southern Italian regions; multidisciplinary teams ensured an immediate intervention at the moment of disembarkation, working on children engagement and need assessment. Data were gathered about minors’ characteristics and services activated. Descriptive information was selected to develop a profile of cases and bivariate analysis was used to assess the relationship between case characteristics and outcomes.


The UASCs belong to 38 different nationalities, forming a very diverse group in terms of culture, reasons for leaving their country and past experiences, most of them traumatic. A high number of children were victims of torture, maltreatment, and human trafficking. The empirical evidence highlights that, at the end of the intervention, the majority of UASCs were still hosted in first-level facilities that could respond to basic needs only. Second-level centres were not always equipped to promote their integration process.


Findings suggest that even if an early child protection intervention to identify children’s strengths and vulnerabilities was crucial for the children engagement, a parallel action for advocacy at national and European level needs to be carried out to raise awareness about human rights violations, the complexity of these minors’ needs, and the necessity to promote adequate services in the reception system, giving voice to these children.