New findings show specialised therapy for refugee children improves wellbeing

1st March 2024

  • New research from Foundations, a research centre for family support services, highlights the positive impacts of specialised therapy for unaccompanied children seeking asylum
  • Findings include significant improvements to mental health, as well as improvements to social connections, sleep, diet and relaxation
  • Unaccompanied children seeking asylum are at high risk of experiencing mental health problems but frequently fall through the gaps of mental health services
  • Foundations is calling for the Refugee Council’s My View Children’s Therapy to be made more widely available and for a heightened focus on specialised, evidence-based support to address the distinct challenges faced by vulnerable children.

Foundations has today published new research demonstrating the effectiveness of My View Children’s Therapy, a form of specialised therapeutic support developed by the Refugee Council for unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the UK. Foundations is calling for My View to be made more widely available, and for the next government to focus on proven and effective support to address the distinct challenges faced by vulnerable children. This follows the Department for Education’s recent funding announcement for unaccompanied children seeking asylum and suggests that spending money implementing My View Children’s Therapy could enhance the wellbeing and future prospects of this group.[i]  

In March 2023, England recorded 7,290 unaccompanied children seeking asylum, up 29% from the previous year.[ii] This vulnerable group have often lost family members in conflict or have been separated from family and need appropriate support. These children are at higher risk of experiencing mental health problems, but frequently fall through the gaps of mental health services, or the available provision lacks the required sensitivity to their circumstances.

The Refugee Council’s My View Children’s Therapy shows significant positive impacts on the wellbeing of these children. Improvements in psychological wellbeing, reduced stress, enhanced anger management and improved mood were reported by participants, as well as staff and stakeholders. Positive changes were also noted in sleep patterns, diet, relaxation, exercise and social connections. Reflections and feedback from children who received the therapy were overwhelmingly positive, further highlighting the programme’s success in improving the lives of these children.

As of March 2022, 21% of unaccompanied children were not in school, in stark contrast to the 2% of all other looked after children.[iii] Over half (52%) of unaccompanied children placed in fully or semi-independent living were not in school.[iv] Deliberate self-harm and suicide attempts were also reported in up to 8% of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in a central London setting where the overall prevalence of mental health problems was 77%.[v] These statistics highlight the imperative for proven support mechanisms for this vulnerable group, to guarantee their safety and stability. This is crucial for enabling them to develop the relationships necessary to thrive.

Dr Jo Casebourne, Chief Executive of Foundations, said:  

“These findings clearly demonstrate the benefits of specialised therapeutic support for unaccompanied children seeking asylum. Amidst the current mental health crisis, every child should have access to wellbeing support that works.

“It’s time to push for widespread implementation of effective support like the Refugee Council’s My View Children’s Therapy. Ensuring that mental health and wellbeing support is evidence based must be a top priority for the next government. Let’s ensure every child can access support that works, empowering all vulnerable children to thrive”.


Faye Mehrgan, Refugee Council’s My View National Manager, said:

“We are extremely proud of the specialist therapeutic support our My View service has given to many children and young people who come to the UK alone and in need of help. Providing a safe, confidential place for children to get well-being support through talking, individual creative work or group therapeutic support can be an absolute lifeline – the difference between someone having the chance to recover from all they have endured and not.

“This service is currently only provided by the Refugee Council but with increased funding it could be delivered by others too and ultimately help even more vulnerable children.”


Raynette Bierman, Associate Director in Ipsos UK’s Policy and Evaluation Unit, said:

“This research, conducted by Ipsos UK and Centre for Evidence and Implementation (CEI), is an important step forward in filling the evidence gap on what works to alleviate psychological distress and improve wellbeing among unaccompanied children. We found that My View successfully addresses many of the barriers that these children face when trying to get the support they need and significantly improved their emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing.”


Quotes from My View clients

“I came out of those sessions, like, when I finished, I was a completely different person with a completely different view to life, and me being different. So before, I was like hopeless and I didn’t want to live, but after that, I was more like comfortable and everything was much, much better for me.” – My View client

“I was hopeless, I didn’t know what is the meaning of life, it was so hard for me, but she gave me hope. With that hope, I can live in hope to see the future.” – My View client

“I learned how to think about the future, about the present, and to plan for the future and to think better.” – My View client


Case studies available on request.

Interviews with Dr Jo Casebourne available upon request. 

Contact: Charlotte Kelsted, Senior Press Officer: 07773 647 480 / charlotte.kelsted@foundations.org.uk 

Notes to editors 

About Foundations

At Foundations, the national What Works Centre for Children & Families, we believe all children should have the foundational relationships they need to thrive in life. By researching and evaluating the effectiveness of family support services and interventions, we are generating the actionable evidence needed to improve them, so more vulnerable children can live safely and happily at home, and lead happier, healthier lives.

Foundations was formed through the merger of What Works for Children’s Social Care (WWCSC) and the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF).


About Ipsos UK

Ipsos UK’s dedicated Policy and Evaluation research team leads a range of evaluation projects for UK, European and international clients across the public and not-for-profit sectors. Their multi-disciplinary team of evaluation professionals, economists and policy experts harness Ipsos’s strength in conducting robust social research across the full spectrum of policy areas to deliver end-to-end evaluation solutions for their clients. They test the feasibility for evaluations, learn about what works, what doesn’t work and why this is the case, understand whether their interventions are delivering value for money, and disseminate knowledge about what works amongst communities of interest. For more information about Ipsos UK, please visit https://www.ipsos.com/en-uk.


About Centre for Evidence and Implementation (CEI)

The Centre for Evidence and Implementation (CEI) is a global, not-for-profit evidence intermediary dedicated to using the best evidence in practice and policy to improve the lives of children, families and communities facing adversity. Established in Australia in late 2015, CEI is a multi-disciplinary team across four offices in London, Melbourne, Sydney and Singapore. They work with their clients, including policymakers, governments, practitioners, programme providers, organisation leaders, philanthropists and funders in three key areas of work: understand the evidence base; develop methods and processes to put the evidence into practice; and trial, test and evaluate policies and programmes to drive more effective decisions and deliver better outcomes. For more information about CEI visit www.ceiglobal.org/.


About the Refugee Council

The Refugee Council is a leading charity working with refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK, including separated children. Founded in 1951 following the creation of the UN Refugee Convention, they exist to support and empower people who have fled conflict, discrimination and persecution to rebuild their lives in the UK. They work directly with thousands of refugees each year, supporting them from the moment they arrive in the UK. They provide crisis advice and practical support, help them to integrate into their new communities and offer mental health counselling to support them come to terms with the trauma so many have experienced. They also speak up for refugees using their direct work as an evidence base and ensure refugees have a stronger and more influential voice in decisions that will affect them. For more information, please visit www.refugeecouncil.org.uk.

Footnotes

  1. A copy of the report is available here.
  2. The Refugee Council developed the My View programme in 2015, which provides a specialist mental health service for refugee children and young people who arrive in the UK on their own.
  3. The report details the findings of an evaluation that was conducted between 2021 and 2023 to assess the implementation and effectiveness of My View, primarily its one-to-one therapeutic support. This is the first randomised control trial with refugee children in the UK.

[i] https://www.cypnow.co.uk/news/article/dfe-releases-second-round-of-funding-for-migrant-children-mentoring-scheme

[ii] https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/children-looked-after-in-england-including-adoptions

[iii] https://assets.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wpuploads/2023/05/cc-lac-not-in-school.pdf

[iv] https://assets.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wpuploads/2023/05/cc-lac-not-in-school.pdf

[v] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34656979/