New pathways

Innovative good practices in mental health and psychosocial support services for adolescents, young refugees and migrants in Italy



Refugee and migrant children and adolescents – especially those moving alone – are frequently exposed to risks of violence and exploitation not only while in the country of origin, but also during transit and upon arrival in host countries. The intensity of the psychological suffering children on the move experience may have long-term negative impacts on their psychological well-being.   

This is why, in all regions where UNICEF works, psychosocial support and mental health interventions are integrated into all prevention and support programmes across child protection, health, gender-based violence and education.  

“New pathways”, the mapping conducted by UNICEF on mental health and psychosocial support interventions, collects the most promising intervention models responding to the needs of refugee and migrant children and adolescents.  

The research, carried out in Italy in 2021, identifies 13 promising and emerging practices, which offer innovative MHPSS services through the development and provision of support tailored to the specific needs of Unaccompanied and Separated Children (UASC) and young refugees and migrants hosted in reception facilities. The research gathered evidence  from interviews and focus group discussions with MHPSS professionals, and with migrant and refugee children and young people hosted in the second-line reception system.  

The practices mapped differ significantly in terms of services they provide, underlying approaches underpinning them, and network models they deploy. However, they all share common success factors when it comes to quality and replicability, including:  

  • delivery of support that is individualised and tailored to each young person’s needs and life path; 
  • presence of multidisciplinary teams capable of ensuring a holistic assessment of needs and planning interventions based on the continuum of care;  
  • integration of caretaking mechanisms that consider linguistic and cultural needs of users;  
  • inclusion of structured referral mechanisms; and  
  • attention to age and gender dimensions and how these influence the experience of suffering and corresponding type of support required.  
  • Other positive factors concern the broader system of social and health services, such as the awareness-raising and training of caregivers on mental health and psychosocial support issues, networking and multi-stakeholder coordination mechanisms.  

The consultation process also identifies challenges concerning the reception system and external mental health and psychosocial support services for unaccompanied and separated children, young refugees and migrants. Some of the challenges include: coordination between the reception system and social and health services in order to adapt public mental health services to the needs of young migrants, standardisation of response mechanisms, enhancing and investing more in prevention programmes and strengthening psychosocial well-being, enabling minors to be more directly involved in the care processes that affect them.  

The research shows that, with adequate investments and improved coordination among stakeholders responsible for planning, implementing and monitoring MHPSS services, inside and outside the reception system, the mapped practices can serve as a basis for minimum standards to guide MHPSS interventions designed for migrant and refugee children and youth. 

The work was carried out within the framework of the European Union “RM Child-Health initiative – strengthening refugee and migrant children’s health status”.

All practices have also been collected in descriptive fact sheets and are available for practitioners to consult on the following link.

Publication date