Toolkit on Abuse, Safeguarding and Young Refugees and Migrants


Abuse is a term that has become commonplace, as its daily usage on television, film, in fiction and non-fiction and everyday discussion shows. Increasingly, the regular use of the term ‘abuse’ is linked to the recognition that such acts are occurring globally. No longer are we only aware of abuse in the local or national arena, media enables us to see and hear about issues of abuse much further afield, such as sexual abusers who travel to other countries to get easier access to children or the abuse perpetrated by traffickers, using children and youth for sex work (rape and sexual assault) or forced labour (for instance in agriculture). This toolkit, will examine how we can understand the concept of abuse and how it pertains to children and young people, but then will focus in on these issues in relation specifically to youth refugees and migrants and the potential abuse risks of displacement, travel and relocation.

The toolkit, which has four sections, will help you to examine, explore and understand:

  • What types of abuse have been identified by academics and practitioner working in the field of abuse and safeguarding,
  • What are the new and emerging forms of abuse of which practitioners working in the field have recently become aware,
  • How these types of abuse relate to the experiences of young refugees and migrants,
  • Who carries out abuse against children and young people,
  • Why youth workers do not always identify or act upon instances of abuse,
  • What is meant by the term safeguarding,
  • How a youth worker might respond to abuse or to a young person who has experienced abuse in the past,
  • Some real case studies of abuse that involve refugee/migrant youth
  • What you could do next to find out more about this topic ad engage with the issues in an ongoing way to build your skills and knowledge.


It is important to understand that most child or youth abuse is disclosed without being planned or anticipated by the young person. When a young person discloses abuse, as a youth worker and a professional, you have to take it seriously and it has to be dealt with appropriately (see below on national scheme and guidance). Being the one a young person discloses abuse can be surprising or distressing for the youth worker. The first advice in this context is “do not panic”. The young person probably disclosed to you because of the established relationship and a form of trust. Your main duty remains the the safety and the well-being of the child.

When a young person discloses abuse to you, there are a few basic tips that can guide your attitude:

  • Listen to the young person and accept what the child says
    • Stay with the young person (do not leave to seek help, this can be distressful for the child) and try to display a
    • Reassure then they did the right thing to tell you, that it is not their fault and that you believe them. Try to keep looking at the child,
    • Let them speak, do not try to interview the young person, let them speak
      • If you ask question, try to reformulate using their own words
    • Inform them that you need to tell other people about it to protect them
      • Do not promise not to share as this can entail the trust and lead to a sense of betrayal
      • Inform them about further steps (e.g. reporting)
  • If possible, try to take notes or write down what the young person says in their own words. This is important as you need to differentiate what the young person’s word from your interpretation of the situation.
  • Talk to your line manager, if needed or possible seek help for yourself. These situations are complex and can be difficult for youth workers even after years of experience.

There are different national protocols that need to be taken into account, in the instance that a child or young person disclosing abuse to you and it is important you follow these in order to ensure that the child/young person is safe and that any evidence to prosecute the perpetrator is collected properly to aid prosecution (should that happen). Below we provide up one up-to-date link to information related to victim support services and legal guidance that can help you in each country of the EU:


Victim Support Finland (Rikosuhripäivystys / Brottsofferjouren)

A full list of services is available here.


JUDEX Justice system in Italy and procedures sexual violence on children_CESIE

Available here


Gender-Based Violence & Domestic Violence, Collection of Services

Available here


Overview of existing Victim Support services in Serbia

A full report and an interactive map are available

What if you are not sure about whether abuse has taken place? Again, there are national differences in this but here is some advice from the website of the UK-based NSPCC, which is relevant to all situations, wherever they take place.

What if you are not sure about whether abuse has taken place? Again, there are national differences in this, but here is some advice from the website of the UK-based NSPCC, which is relevant to all situations, wherever they take place:

If you are in a situation where you suspect abuse of a child/youth but they have not actually said anything to you, there are a number of steps you can take:

  • Continue to talk to the child
    • Most children who are being abused find it very difficult to talk about it. By having ongoing conversations, the time may come when they’re ready to talk.
  • Keep a diary
    • This is a good way to keep a note of your concerns and the way your child is behaving. It can also help to spot patterns of behaviour.
  • Talk to the child’s teacher or health visitor
    • The professionals who come into contact with the child may also have noticed them acting unusually.
  • Get someone else’s perspective
    • Talk about your worries with a trusted friend or family member or with an NSPCC helpline counsellor. Ask what they think about your concerns.
  • Talk through your worries
    • You can also report your worries to the national helpline. You do not have to give your name if you would prefer to remain anonymous. In some countries, services to report abuse and service for help-seeking children are the same. A list of all the children helpline in the world can be found here.
CountryName of the organisationNational Helpline number
FinlandThe Child and Youth Phone0800 144 644
ItalySOS Il Telefono Azzurro Onlus1.96.96

Supportline 179 provides online support (message, email, etc.)

SerbiaNAcionalna DEcija Linija – NADEL116111
UKNSPCC Childline UK
NSPCC Report child abuse
0800 1111
0808 800 5000.

Furthermore there are also the EU Emotional Support Helpline 116 123 and the EU Child Helpline 116 111 that can redirect your call onto a national helpline.
If you suspect that someone is abusing a child, reporting the abuse may not be something you want to consider, especially if the alleged abuser is a friend or family member. Your initial reaction may be to dismiss it or try to prove it is not true. However, it is vital that you report your concerns if you feel a child is in danger. By not reporting your concerns, may mean that the abuse will continue.
Taken from NSPCC (2018) What to Do if you Suspect Abuse, available here.



As you have probably realised, abuse and safeguarding of child and young migrants or refugees is an important and wide topic area. It is not the case that here we have outlined the policies, laws and practices of each country, in relation to abuse and safeguarding, indeed that would not be possible. However, we have provided a starting point for study of this area and this is study that must continue throughout your time working and supporting children and young people. The toolkit has demonstrated how processes of globalisation, in particular the ability to move easily due to transportation technologies, communications networks and the Internet, have enabled abuse of children and youth to become more widespread. At the same time those processes have brought the plight of refugees and migrants to the world stage, so that people are more aware of the issues.

However, the issues of abuse and how to safeguard children and youth are continually developing as our knowledge-base grows; as we saw in relation to new and emerging forms of abuse, your practice must develop alongside these changes. The PAPYRUS team suggest that you create a portfolio approach to developing your understanding of these issues. This involves you keeping a log or note of new developments, reading alongside these new areas or changes as you find them and keeping information on each development either on paper, online or on a drive. It is particularly important to do this where you will have to evidence professional development in the field but also crucial for anyone who wants to show commitment to safeguarding children and young people and build continuously on their knowledge. Here are things we suggest you can do next, starting with the portfolio:

  • Keep an ongoing portfolio up to date about developments in the field of safeguarding children and youth, this will include information on new concepts, copies of safeguarding documents or codes, relevant to your workplace but also to other organisations or professionals that you work regularly with,
  • Check out and attend regular training on safeguarding, this might be run at national, regional or local level, even within your own organisation. If you are in a small organisation and training on safeguarding does not regularly happen, think about talking to colleagues to bring pressure to bear to try to make training more regular. Don’t forget to refresh even training you have done before because new information might be included,
  • Consider whether you could organise a multi-professional group occasionally to discuss safeguarding practice. This does not have to disclose private information about children or youth but could examine anonymised cases or situations and utilise the knowledge of the group to think about how to develop practice and support,
  • As above, develop your own case studies, fully anonymised, which could be used in your organisation for informal staff group work,
  • Keep up to date with EU policy on safeguarding through the web,
  • Discuss safeguarding through the PAPYRUS website, with other practitioners.
  • Join the Virtual Abuse and Safeguarding Group Page on Facebook, where accounts and stories around various types of abuse are posted by people working in a host of care, welfare, social work and other sectors.

Remember, protecting others from abuse is a concern for everyone, no matter what level of responsibility you work at. Together, we can help to safeguard child and youth refugees and promote best practice in their support.


Glossary and definition
AbuseAll forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.
Child AbuseAny action by another person – adult or child – that causes significant harm to a child
Child sexual abuseChild sexual abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society.
Child sexual exploitationChild sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.
DisclosureThe way a survivor of child sexual abuse informs someone that the abuse has occurred. Disclosures can be very direct (e.g. a survivor clearly stating what happened and who was involved) or may be subtle or indirect (e.g. a survivor, especially a young survivor, may hint at what has happened, divulge details in bits and pieces, or blurt it all out one time and then not want to discuss it again).
(UNESCO definition)

Discrimination is the selection for unfavourable treatment of an individual or individuals on the basis of: gender, race, colour or ethnic or national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, social class, age (subject to the usual conventions on retirement), marital status or family responsibilities, or as a result of any conditions or requirements that do not accord with the principles of fairness and natural justice. It can take a variety of forms and may include the following:

  • direct discrimination, for example, refusing to admit as students, employ or promote individuals because they are black, female, disabled or because of their sexual orientation;
  • indirect discrimination, for example, setting age qualifications which discriminate against women who have had periods away from work because of family responsibilities.
GroomingBefriending and establishing an emotional connection with a person, often a child, and sometimes the family, to lower the child’s inhibitions with the objective to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or trafficking.
Human TraffickingTrafficking in human beings (THB) involves the exploitation of vulnerable persons traded by criminals as commodities for the sole purpose of economic gain. This crime often has a transnational character; it comprises victims of all genders and age and, due to its nature, is often hard to discover and investigate
NeglectFailure of parents/carers or others to meet a person’s basic needs
Online abuseOnline abuse is any type of abuse that happens on the web, whether through social networks, playing online games or using mobile phones. It overlaps or can include all other types of abuse.
Physical abusePhysical abuse is deliberately hurting a child causing injuries such as bruises, broken bones, burns or cuts.
Sexual abuseSexual abuse is sexual behaviour or a sexual act forced upon a woman, man or child without their consent. It can include contactless types of abuse such as grooming, harassment etc.

The toolkit was developed within the ‘’Professional Action and Practice for Youth Refugees and Asylum Seekers’’ project (acronym: PAPYRUS) funded by the UK Erasmus+ National agency through the Strategic partnership for youth.