Why is this a Need?
The systems and supports in place for unaccompanied and separated children (children under 18 years old who are making a refugee claim in Canada without their parents or legal guardian) do not effectively respond to their particular needs and vulnerabilities. These children are forced to navigate an immigration system that has been designed for adults, and that does not always adequately protect the child’s rights and respond to their needs. Similarly, insofar as some of these children may become connected to Ontario’s child welfare system, the required immigration and settlement expertise to effectively support them in all areas of their settlement process is not always readily available, and as a result these children are at great risk of falling through the cracks and not receiving the care and support they require, which jeopardizes both their immediate wellbeing and their long-term future in Canada.
It was clear to Christie Refugee Welcome Centre and our friends at FCJ Refugee Centre that for these children to be properly supported as they navigate the immigration, child welfare and education systems in Ontario, a new initiative focused specifically on supporting and advocating for them was needed, and our hope is that through the establishment of the Centre for Refugee Children, we will be able to holistically support refugee and migrant children in a way that has previously not existed for this particularly vulnerable population.
What is the refugee journey like for unaccompanied children?
When people hear about or think of unaccompanied and separated children, they tend to envision situations like the U.S-Mexico border or the Mediterranean, and many are unaware that there are unaccompanied and separated children arriving in Canada. Canada does receive UASCs (approximately 400-450 per year arriving and making a refugee claim prior to the pandemic), but due to the comparatively smaller numbers and the different pathways these children take after arrival, their presence does not receive a lot of attention compared to situations elsewhere. In Canada, and specifically Ontario, there is no one path for them –some may end up a refugee house or youth shelter, others (especially those under 16 years of age) will become connected to the provincial child welfare system, and many will end up living with a relative or community member, where their ongoing access to services and supports is largely unknown. It’s because of this reality that we identified the importance of having a specialized program that would would be available to them in the province regardless of particular living situation and circumstances, and that would support each child based on his/her specific needs and priorities.
Hopes for the First Year?
One short-term goal is to connect with and support as many of these children as possible. It sounds simple enough, but given the fact that they have not traditionally had access to the services and supports they require to move forward with their settlement, reaching out and opening our doors to as many of these children as we can during the first year of operation is a priority.
Beyond the individual services we hope to provide, we’re also excited to create partnerships and explore new ways that we can better serve refugee children in Ontario. There’s a lot of advocacy that needs to be done–whether it’s in terms of ensuring the rights of children are protected and their voices are heard throughout the immigration process, or promoting better access to family reunification for children who have come to Canada on their own but may have parents or siblings in other parts of the world they wish to be reunited with. In response to these important issues along with many others, we hope to establish the Centre for Refugee Children as a strong voice to push for the changes that will make a difference in the lives of the children we are serving.
Do You Need Funding?
Creating something new requires a lot of trust and support–that goes for the organizations (CRWC and FCJ) who have come together to establish the Centre for Refugee Children, and for our funders and community members who see the importance of the project and believe in what we are building. We’re so grateful that the launch is fully funded by The Law Foundation of Ontario and the Hodgson Family Foundation. They’ve given us the opportunity to support unaccompanied and separated children through this project. We’re looking forward to building new friendships and partnerships in the future and continuing to grow and strengthen the Centre for Refugee Children.
This sounds great! How can I find out more?
We have a website and general email for the project, check-out www.CRCrefugee.ca for more information on the project, or email contact@CRCrefugee.ca if you’d like connect.