Separated child migrants’ care for each other

Today marks the launch of our project website for Children Caring on the Move (CCoM). In this blog, Sarah Crafter talks about why we should be interested in children’s care of each other when they migrate without kin.


Olivia was a lawyer, working to help separated child migrants living alone in the Calais refugee camp. Looking back on her time in the camp, she described to us how the children were often left to care for each other. The camp, dubbed by the media as ‘The Jungle’ formed the context for a different type of family. This is not the only example of children travelling alone caring for each other. In the US, one 14-year-old girl who had been given the task of taking care of two little girls in a detention centre on the Texas/Mexico border, reportedly told lawyers “I need comfort too. I am bigger than they are, but I am a child, too”. Both of these situations give us examples of children caring for each other, perhaps during their migration journeys as well as when they have reached their destinations.

Aside from these anecdotal pieces of evidence about children’s care of each other as they migrate alone, there has been little research that systematically aims to examine children’s care for each other. Our project ‘Children caring on the Move’ (CCoM) seeks to fill this gap. ‘Care’ is at the heart of our study because we want to understand how separated child migrants, and those involved in their care, make sense of, value, and take part in care relationships and caring practices in England. Our project recognises that separated child migrants must navigate contradictory, complex, and changeable immigration and welfare systems. As they do so, what space does this leave for children to care for each other? And how is this form of care understood by the adults who they encounter?

We think a really exciting aspect of our project will be exploring the diverse understandings of care that separated child migrants bring with them on their migration and settlement journeys. We suspect that children’s care of each other has been an important resource for surviving precarious migration journeys and navigating their way through welfare and asylum processes. However, when we ordinarily think about taking care of children, what springs to mind is an adult taking care of a child, but when children migrate alone, it opens up the possibility of thinking about care in different ways. Children’s care of each other may unsettle some of the taken-for-granted assumptions that we, as adults, hold about what care children should receive and how it is received.

We have set out on our project journey as a team of multi-disciplinary academics, practitioners and charity workers. Our expertise covers law, migration, social work, sociology, psychology, foster care and political economy of care. Our task is a complex one, as our discussions from our team meetings can attest to! But it is this very complexity we seek to capture through recognising that separated migrant children may navigate diverse and potentially conflicting ideas about care when in England, as their care for each other may both support and constrain migration and settlement processes. We will also be asking how children’s care of each other is treated by adult stakeholders who they encounter. And further, how might the how might the socio-political precarity under which children find themselves influence their care relationships and caring practices.

When I think about my own family life and the lives of my two children, I am both engaged in, and surrounded by, acts of taking care of others and being cared for. It is not that I neglect to appreciate the care I give and receive; I reflect on how grateful I am for that care all the time. But I grew up, just as my children are doing, pretty secure in the knowledge that a parent would be nearby if I needed them. We have written about the difficulties children face when caring for each other in the absence of support, resources, and recognition, as well as the importance of this care. This is beautifully captured in this animation of Habib’s life; and his experience coming to England as a separated child from Afghanistan. It is moving story of loss, belonging, friendship and connection – for me at least, it is a story about care.

We are delighted to launch our project website and hope you join us through the journey of our project. Our blog will provide regular updates of our progress, events, ideas, thoughts and challenges.

If you would like to submit a blog on the topic of separated child migration and care, please write to Sarah Crafter at

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