Every so often, aid organisations sound the alarm about the number of street youths in Belgian cities. This time the news came from Brussels, where "dozens" of children, mostly of North African origin, live on the streets. The actual number is probably several times higher... The children are usually between 9 and 14 years old, spend the night on the streets or in squats, travel around Europe alone or in small groups as city hoppers and often deliberately stay out of the structures of regular assistance. They survive by begging or committing petty theft and not infrequently struggle with solid addiction problems.

A Brussels mobile school does not currently exist, and so it must be said that we are not directly involved in this. Nor do we have any information on individual cases or what is already happening to these young people at the moment. Moreover, we realise that the actors on the ground face the complexity of the Brussels institutional knot on top of the complexity of these young people. Nevertheless, our experience from working with street children on four continents tells us that we should not be surprised to see children on the streets in our cities too. The fact that there are currently 14 European mobile schools operating in countries such as Greece, Spain and Germany is striking evidence of a growing need.

Perhaps the most important realisation in this complex story is that there is no simple solution. Those who think they are betting on instant solutions will be disappointed. Unfortunately, today politics and traditional aid still too often focus on removing these young people from the streets as quickly as possible. The young people are placed and good riddance. In many cases, city hoppers become centre-hoppers and, because of their total distrust of adults - often fuelled by traumatic experiences in their home countries - they are back on the streets in no time. A second, third and fourth attempt then follows, but mostly with the same result. Through this process of repeated failure, confidence sinks and frustration rises.

Unfortunately, the crucial very first step to bring this target group back closer to society is often forgotten: humanising these young people. These young people are in acute need of a confidant. Approaching them with a social worker's agenda full of solutions to their misery and problems does not work! But if we dare to ask ourselves and them from a thoroughly empathetic approach, free of judgement or agenda, what they are looking for, and what their perspective is, this already brings us one step closer to genuine connection and mutual understanding. Repeating this process continuously and for a long time creates an environment of trust, in which these guests can be genuinely empowered to take back control of their own lives.

The majority of young people seek and find a sense of belonging on the streets. The street is an escape route, away from misery in the family or in their home country, and therefore, in their eyes, a better alternative to the hopeless situation in which they find themselves. They take the fact that on the street they are extremely vulnerable to various forms of exploitation and abuse because the freedom and identity of the street feels positive to them. On the street and within the gang, they are at least someone. Therefore, a black-and-white view where the street is bad and care is good will always lead to more distance because it just rejects their identity and reaffirms that they are 'wrong' and mainstream structures are 'right'. The result is more polarisation and less connection ...

Our approach very deliberately focuses on opportunities rather than problems. A 10-year-old boy who decides to flee his hopeless situation in North Africa and travels halfway across Europe without a budget, we logically see as a problem. Unfortunately, we too often forget that surviving this journey also requires a number of strong qualities, such as courage, entrepreneurship and inventiveness, to name but a few. Tapping into these young people's potential creates more connection and a solid basis for empowerment.

That is why, with MobileSchool.org, we support organisations to put this positive approach focused on connection, empathy and empowerment into practice. We train local professionals and offer them materials, forms of work and coaching. From Guatemala City, to Nairobi, from Düsseldorf to who knows one day in Brussels... Our mobile schools are a meeting place for young people to take control of their own future, and the digital StreetSmart products help to monitor and support their personal growth process.

As mentioned earlier, this is a complex, long and time-consuming process, and of course coordination between different actors across borders and specific attention to each unique story are equally part of the solution. It is one of the reasons why we actively disseminate this philosophy on street work, to ensure that these young people - wherever they go on their migration journey - can find a trusted person who will engage with them authentically, without judgement and with an eye for their potential.

Globally, an estimated 150 million street children roam our cities. A huge pool of untapped potential who can take on a positive role within our society. The fundamental question is whether we want to see this potential and are willing to challenge our own perspective. Do we see them purely as a problem or as an opportunity? The choice is yours ...