Transition of unaccompanied minors to adulthood
What measures, structures and systems are in place in the EU Member States and Norway to provide transitional support to unaccompanied minors after reaching the age of majority? This new EMN inform investigates the legal transition that unaccompanied minors face as they age out of care systems envisaged to protect (all) children and adolescents deprived of parental care in the EU and Norway
The transition to adulthood of a young person refers broadly to the process of them reaching adult age, thus transitioning from dependency to autonomy and living as a full member of society. Unaccompanied minors face a double transition: not only from childhood into adulthood, but also, possibly, a change to their status, which can impact on their right to stay, and the extent to which they can access education, housing, employment, services, and support.
The EU has been actively working to protect the rights of unaccompanied minors for decades, and those who apply for asylum in the EU benefit from a series of rights and procedural guarantees throughout the asylum procedure and in accordance with the result of its examination, However, the EU acquis does not lay down any guarantees or rights to support the transition to adulthood of these persons. As such, the rights and conditions related to unaccompanied minors transitioning into adulthood vary significantly across the EU and Norway.
Unaccompanied minors who have a (temporary) status specifically linked to them being a minor, which exists in half of the Member States and Norway, may no longer have any legal grounds to remain on the territory when turning 18, although in 10 Member States alternative ways exist to regularise their situation. Those who are still in a status determination procedure may also be impacted when becoming adults, especially if minority was one of the grounds to qualify for the status. However, this is a rare situation, and in most cases there are no immediate consequences on the application procedure. When it comes to returns, unaccompanied minors are considered "vulnerable persons" under Article 10 of the Return Directive, but they can still receive a return decision before turning 18. Two-thirds of the Member States either do not issue a return decision to unaccompanied minors until they reach adulthood or if they do, they usually do not enforce it until they reach the age of 18.
Although most Member States do not have a national strategy to support the transition to adulthood for accompanied minors, more than half provide some form of ongoing support and services for a limited period after they come of age. This "aftercare" usually involves allowing young adults to remain in their housing, complete their studies, or receive support to enter the labour market. Civil society organisations also play an important role in providing (additional) support, such as language courses, legal, social and/or psychological counselling, transition to adulthood and aftercare services for aged-out minors.
Overall, Member States and Norway have experienced similar difficulties in supporting the transition of unaccompanied minors to adulthood, identifying, in particular, the need to improve accommodation for those who turn 18 and the need to level up services and support available to those who have just transitioned into adulthood.