What does Brexit mean for children and young people?

Fiona Simpson
Friday, January 31, 2020

The UK is officially leaving the European Union at 11pm on January 31 after Boris Johnson’s Brexit bill was passed by parliament.

MPs voted down amendments including child refugee rights and the Erasmus+ scheme. Picture: Adobe Stock
MPs voted down amendments including child refugee rights and the Erasmus+ scheme. Picture: Adobe Stock

The country then enters an 11-month transition period during which issues such as trade deals will be finalised.

But, what do we know so far about how exiting the EU will affect children and young people?

Social care

Children’s rights

The Charter of Fundamental Rights is not included in the Brexit (Withdrawal) bill.

Human right’s groups, including Liberty and Amnesty International, have raised concerns over its omission because children's rights enshrined in the Charter have been translated into practice through EU legislation, policy and case law.

This includes areas from cross-border family law, and ensuring the best interests of separated asylum-seeking children, through to policies designed to tackle child obesity and high youth unemployment rates.

Child protection

According to Coram children’s legal centre, as of April 2018 there were over 900,000 EU national children in the UK required to prove that they have the right to remain after Brexit to avoid becoming ‘undocumented’ after the end of the transition period.

Some 5,000 EU children are in local authority care, separated from their families.

Homelessness is among the biggest risk factors facing these children, campaigners have said. 

Children in care and care leavers are particularly at risk because of specific barriers they face, including not having the right paperwork.

Unaccompanied child refugees

An amendment to the Brexit (withdrawal) bill to ensure unaccompanied child refugees would have the right to be reunited with their families in the UK was rejected in the House of Commons.

The government’s bill instead includes a lesser commitment to make statements to MPs on child refugee policy after Brexit rather than commit itself to guaranteeing young people’s rights.

The charity Safe Passage is sceptical that child refugee rights will be guaranteed in future legislation.

Early years

Childcare workforce

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 22 per cent of childcare workers are EU nationals.

This means the current staffing crisis facing the early years sector could be exacerbated by Brexit, following the transition period.

Experts warned that early years workers leaving the UK due to Brexit could lead to smaller pools of candidates eligible to apply for childcare positions leading to a lack of childcare places for families.

Youth justice

EU-born children in custody

Applying for settled status is not straightforward for children who are or who have been involved in the criminal justice system, a briefing document published by the Association of the Youth Offending Teams Managers warns.

The group highlighted three key issues facing EU-born children in the youth custody estate:

  • A child who has not yet applied for settled status and receives a custodial sentence running past 31 December 2020 will be unable to apply for settled status whilst serving the sentence.
  • Custodial sentences break a period of continuous residency, meaning EU-born children who have lived in the UK for five years or less and are taken into custody will have to wait another five years after leaving custody before being able to apply to upgrade their “pre-settled status.”
  • Convicted children who leave custody as adults are less likely to be accepted for settled status than those who leave before turning 18.


A government push to recruit border force officials ahead of the end of the transition period could divert potential candidates from applying for prison officers roles in the youth custody estate, Frances Crook, chief executive for the Howard League for Penal Reform said.

Youth work


A move to protect the UK’s involvement in the European Union’s (EU) Erasmus+ youth study and training scheme after February 1 has been voted down by MPs.

There is currently no decision on the UK's involvement in the next stage of the programme which will run from 2021 to 2027.

The Department for Education (DfE) insisted at the time of the vote that the government is “continuing the academic relationship between the UK and the EU, including through the next Erasmus+ programme if it is in our interests to do so”.

It later announced a £2.5m boost to funds for international schools exchanges which included opening schemes up to primary school pupils in disadvantaged areas for the first time.

However, it is currently uncertain whether the DfE-funded scheme will replace Erasmus+.

CYP Now Digital membership

  • Policy and research analysis
  • Evidence-based case studies
  • Leadership advice
  • Legal updates
  • Local area spotlights

From £15 / month


CYP Now Magazine

  • Policy and research analysis
  • Evidence-based case studies
  • Leadership advice and interviews
  • Legal updates

From £12 / month