Victims of violence, wars, persecution and multiple losses, unaccompanied minors, when not adequately supported, may develop psychosocial difficulties that come to add to their past trauma, present lack of normal life in the host country and uncertain future lying ahead. In most cases, following their long and dangerous migratory journey, unaccompanied migrant and refugee minors stay in overcrowded camps in poor and inappropriate living conditions, exposed to perils such as violence, abuse, exploitation, child labour and trafficking. In the best-case scenario, unaccompanied minors reside in shelters or supported independent living facilities with peers without the personalised care and attention to which every minor is entitled. They wait patiently for many months or even years for their family reunification cases to be completed. And when the wait gets too long, or the desired outcome is not achieved using the legal pathway, some may leave the shelters on their own or with the help of smugglers to reach their final destination, putting their lives on the line.

Unaccompanied minors are the most vulnerable group of the refugee and migrant population. They often experience PTSD, anxiety and depression, loneliness, alienation and other psychosocial problems. In their effort to defend themselves from trauma, and since they have great difficulty expressing their emotions, they may instead self-harm or use drugs, medicines, and alcohol (Fondazione L’albero Della Vita Onlus, 2021; Nordic Welfare Centre, 2020). A longitudinal study revealed that the mental health issues faced by unaccompanied minors persist over time, with PTSD and anxiety remaining at the same levels even after spending five years in the host country (Jensen et al., 2019). A possible explanation could be that living in limbo in institutional care facilities increases isolation and delays autonomy, limits minors’ opportunities for human contact and socialisation, individualised care and support, and hinders their inclusion in society, feeding into prejudice and marginalisation.

Migration implies the loss of all that is familiar: home, family and friends, and no one remains untouched in this process. Do not foster an unaccompanied minor if you cannot handle uncertainty and not knowing when you will be separated from each other if they rejoin their family members or relocate to another country. Do not foster an unaccompanied minor if you do not want to follow their pace and lead or if you expect them to bond with you overnight. Do not foster an unaccompanied minor if you are uncomfortable with their silence (see Kohli, 2006), not confiding their story to you or mistrusting you: these were the only coping strategies they had in the past to survive. Also, do not foster an unaccompanied minor if you wish to take in a baby or toddler; in most cases, unaccompanied minors in Greece are adolescents in full swing.

So why foster an unaccompanied minor? Do foster an unaccompanied minor if you believe you can survive the rollercoaster of adolescence and if you can allow the time and space for the minor to practice their own faith and religion. Do foster an unaccompanied minor if you want to help mitigate the losses they have endured and be a stable point of reference for them, possibly the only one they may have had in a long time (but do not expect them to acknowledge that). Do foster an unaccompanied minor if you can tolerate silence, not knowing their whole story and if you can ensure that you will be there to listen if and when they want while abstaining from judgement and easy solutions. Do foster an unaccompanied minor if you want to create a safety net for them and restore normalcy in their lives. Most importantly, do foster an unaccompanied minor if you respect every human being’s right to live in a safe and stable environment; if you want to give them the opportunity to thrive just like their peers, and allow them to dream again. It’s as simple as that.


Fondazione L’albero Della Vita Onlus. (2021). Foster care and alternative forms of care for unaccompanied and separated migrant children. A training toolkit for professionals, families, and minors.
Jensen, T. K., Skar, A. S., Andersson, E. S., & Birkeland, M. S. (2019). Long-term mental health in unaccompanied refugee minors: Pre- and post-flight predictors. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 28(12), 1671-1682.
Kohli, R. K. S. (2006). The sound of silence: Listening to what unaccompanied asylum-seeking children say and do not say. British Journal of Social Work, 36(5), 707-721.
Nordic Welfare Centre. (2020). Mental health and well-being of unaccompanied minors: A Nordic overview.

Author, Iliana Konstantopoulou, Psychologist MSc