The Children Caring on the Move (CCoM) project explores separated child migrants’ experiences of care, and caring for others, as they navigate the complexities of the immigration-welfare nexus in England. Often referred to as ‘unaccompanied minors’ in legal and policy contexts, as well as prior research, we use the term ‘separated child migrants’ to highlight that, in the main, child migrants who have been separated from parents/primary carers have a diverse migration statuses and are not entirely alone.
The project sits against the backdrop of rising numbers of children who have been separated from primary carers during migration and conflicting state rhetoric: protecting children on the one hand and immigration control on the other. ‘Care’ is ambiguous in this context because children may receive care because of their ‘child’ status or be excluded from provision because of their ‘migrant’ status.
CCoM starts from the premise that care is not necessarily limited to that provided by an adult or the state, but can be provided by separated children themselves. Our pilot studies demonstrate that a crucial way separated migrant children survive the challenges of migration and settlement is through the care they provide and receive from other migrant children. Yet, little is known about separated children’s care for each other as they navigate contradictory, complex, and changeable immigration and welfare systems.
Nor do we know how separated children’s care for each other is understood and treated by relevant adult stakeholders, including social workers, foster carers, educators, youth workers, religious leaders, legal professionals, and policy makers. Our pilot studies indicate this neglect means that policies and practices designed to support separated child migrants can end up harming, excluding or discriminating against them. For instance, children who care for each other may be forcibly separated in foster care placements, go ‘missing’ trying to reunite, or have their ‘child’ status questioned.
In response, this project makes a needed and timely intervention. Placing separated children at its heart, CCoM asks:
How do separated migrant children, and those involved in the care of separated children, make sense of and value care relationships and caring practices?
How do separated child migrants build, sustain and navigate care relationships and caring practices in the immigration-welfare nexus?
What economic, social and political factors shape the priorities of relevant stakeholders and institutions, and how do these affect the treatment of separated children?
What are the theoretical and policy implications of these potentially heterogeneous understandings and practices of care within the context of the tension between protection and immigration control?
CCoM is a cross-university collaboration (including the Open University, UCL, University of Bedfordshire, University of Liverpool, University of Northampton, and University of Oxford). It is housed at the Open University. CCoM is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
CCoM runs from May 2019-July 2022 and our research is organised in three work packages (WP):
WP1: Separated child migrants’ care relationships and caring practices – We work with young migrant researchers to design creative research methods, collect and analyse data, and disseminate research about separated child migrants’ understandings and experiences of care and caring for others.
WP2: Adult stakeholders’ perspectives on care relationships and practices – We use interviews and vignettes to explore how adult stakeholders make sense of and value care relationships and caring practices, including the care children provide. Here, we investigate how they respond to the immigration control-protection tension at the heart of the UK state, and the consequences for separated migrant children.
WP3: The ‘cultural political economy’ of care for and by separated child migrants – We analyse the ‘cultural political economy’ of the immigration-welfare nexus as it pertains to separated child migrants’ caring practices and care relationships. This includes analysis of media representations, power relations, policy, and the distribution and organisation of resources, understanding these are constitutive of separated child migrants’ relationships, treatment and experiences of care.