The Protection and Wellbeing of Children in Migration: Advocating for Children’s Educational and Mental Health Rights Worldwide- Michelle A. Bell and Jessica Essary

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As two United Nations NGO Representatives who designed a collaborative research study, we are thrilled to introduce you to this ongoing research agenda on childhood migration. The first of many future initiatives, this effort delves into the support systems (e.g. educational, psychological, legal) for children in migration as outlined in UN member state reports to the 2022 International Migration Review Forum (IMRF). We would like to thank the authorial team’s contribution to the thematic content analysis of United Nations member state reports to the IMRF, focusing on member states’ efforts to uphold the Global Compact on Migration’s commitment to children.

Additional gratitude extends to OMEP for providing us with the opportunity to contribute to the OMEP Blog, where we can shed light on the critical issues surrounding children’s rights to education and protection worldwide. Content which influences both political and academic spheres is able to help bridge the gap between theory and practice, and this wealth of information is drastically needed when addressing the pervasive issues of children in migration. 

The core of the research design stems from the historical lack of sustainable support for childhood migration. While we will not delve into too many details within this blog, because we look forward to the release of the authors’ combined efforts, one resounding message is that recent member state reports show glimpses of progress. Efforts to consider children’s feedback on policies, practices, and awareness initiatives are integral to realizing the goals of the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The team emphasizes the alignment of children’s developmental needs with legal responsibilities and international rights under the UNCRC. Moreover, the research underscores the urgency for the immediate removal of programs detaining children, transitioning to civil society support, and aligning services with the principles of the UNCRC.

In addition, findings highlight a lack of clarity in collaborations between non-governmental organizations, UN agencies, and governments, raising concerns about the long-term sustainability of support for children in migration. We stress the need for increased member state commitment and comprehensive policy implementation to ensure the protection and well-being of children in migration. Furthermore, within the mental health realm, this study underscores the need for the protection of children in migration from the many traumas for which they are at increased risk. Both prevention and intervention programs are needed that focus on combating trafficking of children, exploitation, and decreasing risk of trauma.

In the early childhood educational realm, the need for this study underscores the global gap in understanding how different countries address the educational support of children in migration. Migration tends to be far from temporary, with many children waiting years for any hope of settlement. When intervention expectations are necessary, our recommendation is to view children in migration as valuable contributors to expand/diversify the curriculum with a variety of life experiences, moreover, viewing solutions that children in migration can supply as an asset to the classroom. An assets-based model thereby may consider children in migration through the lens of supporting and enriching educational curricula.

Looking to the future, our research suggests key areas for further exploration. Additional in-depth investigations into specific efforts outlined in International Migration Review Forum (IMRF) reports are essential for a more nuanced understanding of strategies and interventions employed by member states. Comparative research, individual case studies, and additional qualitative analyses of selected countries can further unravel the complexities of challenges that children have to address when they are at risk of or involved in migration.

By sharing a glimpse at this international collaboration research project, we hope to inspire a broader discourse on how to engage additional NGOs in academic engagement as well as advocacy implications at the United Nations. To address the limitations of the study, the research team called for broader and timelier participation among member states in the future International Migration Review Forums (IMRFs). Moreover, increased public access to timely and detailed reports from member states can ensure a more inclusive analysis of the complexities surrounding children in migration. 

The purpose of the study, as well as the outcomes, have potential to further foster a Worldwide community committed to inclusive, diverse, equitable, and quality education for all children worldwide. Also, it may further support the rights of all children to be protected from physical and psychological harm. Education has the potential to further enhance this agenda, providing children with the opportunity to thrive and not just survive. We appreciate the opportunity to bring OMEP to the forefront of conversations pertaining to the needs of young children in migration at the United Nations. Thank you for your commitment to the well-being and rights of every child.

Dr. Michelle Bell, Assistant Professor of Counseling and Therapy at Manhattan College, holds a Psy.D. from Rutgers University. As a bilingual (English/Spanish) and bicultural psychologist she utilizes a family systems lens in her work which focuses on children and families. Her areas of academic interest include parenting and the development of culturally competent models of care.

Dr. Jessica Essary, Professor of Early Childhood Education at Florida Gulf Coast University, holds a PhD from the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York. In addition to studying issues and trends in education, Essary also specializes in early childhood development and diversity teacher preparation.

  1. Michelle A. Bell, Psy.D., Assistant Professor of Counseling & Therapy, School of Arts and Sciences, Manhattan College, APA Representative to the United Nations, michelle.bell@manhattan.edu
  2. Jessica Essary, Ph.D., Professor of Early Childhood Education, Florida Gulf Coast University, The World Organization for Early Childhood Education, OMEP, Representative to the United Nations, jessary@fgcu.edu

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