Original Language
Number of Pages
Date of upload

08 Nov 2019

At a crossroads. Unaccompanied and Separated Children in their Transition to Adulthood in Italy | November 2019

Between 2014 and 2018, more than 70,000 unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) arrived in Italy by sea, 90 per cent of whom were between 15 and 17 years old. The significant presence of UASCs in the country, and the growing number of UASCs who have turned 18 (about 60,000 in the last five years), have highlighted the need to understand the factors that affect the transition to adult life of UASCs in Italy, facilitating or hindering it, both individually and structurally.

The research – commissioned by UNICEF, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and International Organization for Migration – was carried out by ISMU Foundation in collaboration with Roma Tre University and University of Catania. The research has highlighted, first of all, the artificiality of a distinction between “children” and “adults” (UASCs who turned 18) that does not take due account of the transitional process of becoming adults, the sociocultural and gender differences that affect this process and the vulnerabilities to which this category of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are exposed to. The analysis also shows a prevalent incidence of contextual, subjective and relational variables relating to the personal resources, agency and resilience of boys and girls, as well as the networks of formal and informal relations activated upon arrival.

The innovative value of this research lies in the adoption – alongside the quantitative one – of a participatory biographical approach, based on the recognition of the right of children and adolescents to express their opinion on decisions that concern them personally, favoured by having a group of former UASCs just turned 18 as interviewers. This approach allowed 185 boys and girls to become protagonists with their multiplicity of stories, subjective difficulties, structural obstacles and support factors.


  • Acronyms and abbreviations
  • Executive Summary
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Research methodology and tools
    • 2.1 Research questions
    • 2.2 Methodological approach and research tools
    • 2.3 Description of the sample
    • 2.4 Data analysis and validation of draft findings
    • 2.5 Selection of research sites
    • 2.6 The research team: Working with peer researchers
    • 2.7 Ethical considerations
    • 2.8 Limitations
  • 3. Context
    • 3.1 Considerations on, and approaches to, migration and the transition to adulthood
    • 3.2 The normative framework and the reception system for UASC in Italy: Opportunities and protection
    • 3.3 UASC in Italy
  • 4. Expectations, aspirations and the future
    • 4.1 UASC aspirations and family expectations
    • 4.2 Desires and expectations in the transition to adulthood
  • 5. The transition to adulthood: Pathways and factors for success
    • 5.1 Characteristics and factors that facilitate or constrain UASC’s transition pathways
      • 5.1.1 UASC's rights
      • 5.1.2 The first step: The pathways in the reception system
      • 5.1.3 UASC’s education and training pathways
      • 5.1.4 The role of the guardian in the transition to adulthood
      • 5.1.5 Becoming adults by building meaningful relationships
      • 5.2 Transition to adulthood: What changes when UASC become adults
      • 5.2.1 The rights of former UASC
      • 5.2.2 Access to employment pathways
      • 5.2.3 Housing independence
      • 5.2.4 Friendly and supportive relations
  • 6. Obstacles, risks and vulnerabilities in the transition to independence
    • 6.1 Obstacles and vulnerabilities
      • 6.1.1 Timing and obstacles related to the legal status of UASC and former UASC
      • 6.1.2 Support when leaving the reception facilities
      • 6.1.3 Trauma and psychological distress
    • 6.2 Sexual and gender-based violence: Between vulnerability and resilience
    • 6.3 The risks of exploitation and exclusion, and the importance of local reception networks
    • 6.4 Risks associated with onward movements
    • 6.5 Experiences of discrimination affecting the lives of UASC
  • 7. Promising practices
    • 7.1 Lombardy: supervised independent living and housing solutions for UASC and former UASC
    • 7.2 Latium: Experiences of formal and informal relations in support of UASC and former UASC
    • 7.3 Sicily: A structured support to volunteer guardians
  • 8. Conclusions
    • 8.1 Factors that favour a good transition
    • 8.2 Obstacles to a good transition
    • 8.3 Constraints and gaps of the system
      • 8.3.1 Normative framework and its application
      • 8.3.2 Governance and reception
      • 8.3.3 Social inclusion
      • 8.3.4 Data availability
  • 9. Recommendations
  • References
  • Glossary
  • Annexes
  • Endnotes