5 Good Practices for Children and Youth in Migration

How can child helplines best support children and youth in migration?

In 2019, Child Helpline International convened a Community of Practice to exchange knowledge on how child helplines can best support children and young people in migration. This Community of Practice is part of our WeListen Programme, funded by the European Commission. From the extensive discussions, we were able to compile a list of good practices that child helplines around the world can employ when working with children in migration.

The Community of Practice was attended by representatives from Hope for Children (Cyprus), Smile of the Child (Greece), Brave Phone (Croatia), Save the Children Sweden, Save the Children Spain, Radboud University, Missing Children Europe, as well as Child Helpline International #Youth staff, interns and volunteers.



#1: Use the correct terminology

The participants identified the importance of a harmonised terminology when working with children and youth in migration. Terminology is important because: 1) it can help define what the problem is; 2) it can specify needs for different groups and help focus on the solutions; and 3) it helps provide a clear understanding of the topic at hand.

However, terminology relating to children and youth in migration is not clear. Different organisations, countries and agencies are using different definitions. This can cause issues both in collaboration with each other and in interaction with children and youth in migration. Furthermore, the terminology can, and perhaps should, change depending on who you are talking to. Therefore:

  • As much as possible, involve children and youth in migration in shaping the terms and language around them and their situation.
  • The term ‘children and youth in migration’ might better capture the different stages and situations of migration rather than ‘children on the move’.
  • Consider the connotations of using certain terms – what will be most beneficial for children and young people in migration in your country?

#2: Have a separate data collection category for issues faced by children and youth in migration

The main issue identified when it comes to data collection was the lack of not issue-based[1] contacts received by child helplines. This makes it difficult to assess whether the issue categories are suitable for this group. There is also not enough information to generate advocacy campaigns based on child helpline data. We suggest that:

  • When possible and appropriate, child helplines should collect information on whether a child or a young person is in migration.
  • Demographics should be collected if the child volunteers that information.
  • It can be relevant to collect data on the child’s living situation and whether they are unaccompanied.

#3: Create targeted outreach and communication strategies to improve accessibility of child helplines

Child helplines are considered a low-threshold, easy to access, and safe space for children and young people. They could, therefore, be a key point of support for children and youth in migration. However, at this point in time, child helplines are not commonly used by this group.

The participants stressed the need to have a comprehensive and relevant communication and outreach strategy which specifically targets children and youth in migration. Particular attention should be paid to: 1) where outreach and communication should happen; 2) the format for communication; and 3) the type of information to be shared.

#4: Important skills that counsellors should have to best support the target group

These skills include, but are by no means limited to:

Trust-building, a key skill when working with all children and youth, but in particular with children and youth in migration as they may be less likely to know, for instance, the reputation of the child helpline, the confidentiality policy, etc.

Flexibility, in the sense of having the ability to change priorities and find alternative solutions quickly, as the situation for children in migration can change very quickly.

Cultural awareness and competence, which includes, for example, knowledge about the countries of origin, specific vulnerabilities, rights and entitlements of children in migration. This also includes respecting the cultural and religious background of the child.

Empathy and understanding that the individual experiences of children and youth in migration can vary greatly. An individualised approach which focusses on the specific issues of the child is a good practice.

Language skills include child-friendly, simple language. Multilingual counsellors is a good resource which greatly improves accessibility. Issue-based child helplines that specifically target children and youth in migration have multilingual counsellors.

Legal knowledge, including gaining an understanding of different legal statuses in migration and how this affects a child or a young person’s rights and entitlements. Legal knowledge also includes knowledge about the national asylum-seeking process and family reunification. Child helplines can help to translate the often difficult asylum-seeking process to child-friendly language.

Support for age 18+. Knowledge about support for youth in migration who are over the age of 18.

#5: Build effective partnerships

Partnerships are always important, but for children in migration it holds even more weight. In theory, children in migration should have the same basic rights as citizen children, but this is often not the case. This group is regularly denied access to health care, psycho-social support, shelter, right to family life and education. Partnerships can help counteract this.

So, how can we build an effective partnership?

  • Focus on the credibility of your organisation – show and document what you can do and what you have done. Lend your credibility to other important organisations that may not have the same platforms that you have (for example user organisations).
  • Be clear and realistic in your commitments. Gently remind partners when they are not realising commitments – we are all working towards the same goal.
  • Openness is key – listen to different perspectives, be active and push your ideas forward.
  • Use platforms and tools such as conferences, reports, and memorandum of understandings to ignite and structure your collaborations.

We hope that the tips above have been helpful, or at the very least, have allowed you to cast a critical eye on how child helplines can improve their operations and services to better cater to children and young people in migration.


This project is funded by the European Union’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme (REC 2014-2020). The content of this article represents only the views of the author and is his/her sole responsibility. The European Commission does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.

[1] An issue-based child helpline targets a specific issue (e.g. trafficking) or a specific population (e.g. children and youth in migration).