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Refugee Education UK partnered with UNICEF UK to undertake research on an under-explored and overlooked topic: the early childhood education and care experiences of the youngest refugee and asylum-seeking children in England – the under 5s. Through listening to the experiences of parents of refugee children and practitioners in the refugee support and early education sectors, our research uncovers the vital importance of quality, contextual and trauma-informed early education for refugee and asylum-seeking babies and young children, and their families. 


Yet the research also highlights a multitude of challenges that make accessing this vital early education difficult. The findings suggest that these challenges stem from the youngest refugee and asylum-seeking children being caught in the middle of two UK policy systems: the ECEC funding and asylum systems. Each overlooks their existence and de-prioritises their rights. A key factor is the dependence of ECEC access on the parents’ situation, rather than being in the best interests of the child. Similar can be said for the asylum system, which this research suggests is failing to provide children with adequate nutrition, living arrangements and development opportunities.


The effect of a multitude of barriers across both systems is that the children are more likely to be isolated and excluded from the ECEC provision that is shown to be vital for their development, safety and wellbeing in the wake of forced displacement. These children are denied a crucial window of opportunity to go on to thrive in primary school and later in life. 

This research and its recommendations provide a clear roadmap to ensure refugee and asylum-seeking children are supported to develop in their early years, by putting the most marginalised children at the heart of policy-making.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind:

Research on early childhood education and care for the youngest refugee and asylum-seeking children in England

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