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Terre des Hommes (TDH) has launched a preview of its new handbook detailing best practices on how to give mental health and psychosocial support to child refugees and migrants.

The handbook, ‘FARO Model Handbook: Mental Health and Psychosocial Support to Unaccompanied Minors and Families with Children in Reception Centres‘, is based on a multilevel system of intervention, responding to migrant children’s needs depending on where they arrive (hotspots, harbours, reception centres etc.).

“The handbook explains the unique model used when assisting migrant children by Terre des Hommes in the FARO project” says Federica Giannotta, Head of National Programmes at Terre des Hommes Italy.

“This model is unique within Italy and is dedicated to migrant children. It keeps in line with the WHO Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s guidelines for mental health and psychosocial support in emergency situations.”

This approach allows TDH to offer a flexible, efficient response to the increasing number of unaccompanied children and teenagers arriving on Italian shores. The handbook details how to guarantee and prioritise the suitable care of each child’s psychological and psychosocial wellbeing, but its implementation is unfortunately limited to few reception centres at present.

In 2016, 9 in 10 children arriving in Italy were unaccompanied. 17,373 unaccompanied foreign minors were registered on Italian territory last year – almost 50 percent more than in 2015. Over 6,000 children disappeared after running away from reception centres not long after disembarking.

Unaccompanied minors make up a large and particularly vulnerable population, and need specialised services and qualified interventions when they arrive at the reception centres.

Edris, a 16-year-old boy who arrived in Italy in August after escaping enrolment as a child soldier in Somalia, suffered an emotional breakdown after seeing his hopes of safety crashing against the chaotic reality of the Italian asylum system. Terre des Hommes’ intervention provided Edris with the support he needed, spotting his vulnerability and assisting in his speedy transfer to accommodation which could protect and care for him.

The recently approved ‘Zampa’ Law has been drafted in order to address gaps in the current reception system. Many migrants and particularly children are currently forced to stay in inadequate accommodation designed only for people to live in temporarily. This accommodation is not equipped to cater to people’s needs or deliver educational, psychological, medical and social support.

It is also difficult for programmes working in refugee accommodation to check and take care of children and youth living there, due to a lack of human resources and poor preparation to manage reception centres for unaccompanied minors.

Last year, the FARO project provided psychosocial assistance to 5,494 children and youth and individual psychological support to 233 individuals with highlight specific needs. The project in total gave psychological assistance to 12,638 persons (unaccompanied minors and families with children in Sicily), handed out first aid kits to children and families in Milan and provided a legal information service in Ventimiglia.

The handbook accurately describes the ways of working and main challenges and difficulties facing project staff in providing the specialised treatment some children and families need. In the handbook also contains real-life cases and technical sheets with examples of psychosocial activities.

The handbook can be downloaded in Italian and English.

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