Urgent: Recommendations for Improving Interim Care for Separated Children

The Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (The Alliance) is an interagency coalition of nearly 100 member organizations that work together to protect children facing adversity. The Better Care Network (BCN) is an international network of organizations committed to supporting children without adequate family care. To reduce the impact of family separation on children,  we are calling for the prompt reunification of separated children with their families and to provide interim care in accordance with the UN Guidelines for Alternative Care of Children .   

The Guidelines for Alternative Care of Children were endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 2009 and present a coherent framework for the temporary care and protection of children residing without their immediate biological family. These Guidelines aim to minimize the impact of separation on children and their families by addressing key areas including:

  • Supporting parental care;
  • Promoting family reintegration;
  • Strengthening family and community-based options for alternative care; and
  • Strengthening operational guidelines for providing and monitoring alternative care.

The Alliance and the BCN, in accord with the position of the UN General Assembly, hold that children are best cared for in their own families or in community-based alternatives such as kinship or foster care.

Current Context:

The U.S. government has separated more than 2500 children from their caregivers at the US-Mexico Border since October 2017. While a federal court ordered the U.S. government to reunify separated children with their families by July 26, 2018, more than 500 separated children are still in shelters or other placements under the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement and its contracted service providers. In total, more than 11,800 unaccompanied and separated children are housed in nearly 90 facilities across 15 states.  Across the border, 18,300 children were detained in Mexico alone in 2017 while in the process of seeking asylum or in migration.

Recommendations based on best practice:

As these children await reunification with their families, we urge that their care reflect the principles set forth in the UN Guidelines for Alternative Care of Children.

1. Support parental care.

  • Avoid any further separations children from caregivers who have breached laws governing access to and stay within the territory.
  • Pursue policies that support family unity in non-detention settings.
  • Provide access to adequate housing, health, education and social welfare services.
  • Protect families from discrimination, violence, child maltreatment and substance abuse.
  • Empower children and their families to provide for their own protection, care and development via community-based mental health and social supports; daycare; employment counseling; respite care; parenting courses; info on their legal rights, available services and how to access; etc.
  • Support children and their families (especially those with specific vulnerabilities or special needs) through home visits, group meetings, care plans where appropriate, etc.  

2. Promote family reintegration.

  • Eliminate financial impediments to reunification (e.g. requiring parents to pay airfare and other travel-related expenses).  
  • Incorporate follow-up and support measures into reintegration that reflect the child’s age, needs, evolving capacities, the cause of separation, and past experiences or trauma.
  • Update children and their caregivers on the process of family tracing and reintegration.

3. Strengthen family and community-based options for alternative care.

  • Develop family and community-based alternative care options–with priority given to the child’s extended kinship family–that enable the child to maintain relationships and access support from with his/her family, relatives and friends.
  • Ensure that entities providing alternative care for children receive due authorization, monitoring and review from a mandated authority according to a criteria that follows established best practices and standards of care.
  • Enable informal caregivers selected by parents to access financial and support services that promote the child’s welfare and protection.

4. Strengthen operational guidelines for providing and monitoring alternative care.

  • Limit the exposure of children to facilities managed by the Department of Homeland Security and its contractors.
  • Avoid placing children under three in residential care facilities, except in cases where a comprehensive assessment determines it to be in the child’s best interest.
  • Limit institutional care of children over three to a measure of last resort.
  • Respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity (i.e. nationality, name and family relations) as recognized by law.
  • Require all agencies to have written mission statements, policies and practices for the recruitment, monitoring, training, supervision and evaluation of suitable carers.
  • Require all agencies to maintain comprehensive, up-to-date, secure and confidential records on the children in their care and the administration of alternative care services.
  • Prohibit discipline or behaviour management constituting torture; cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; force; or restraint, including by means of drugs or medication.
  • Protect children from all forms of violence, maltreatment or exploitation.
  • Encourage and facilitate children’s daily contact with their families and friends (e.g. neighbors, previous carers, etc.) in keeping with their protection and best interests.
  • Keep siblings together.  
  • Ensure the specific safety, health, nutritional, emotional, developmental and other needs of all children are met (including babies, young children, and those with special needs).
  • Provide children in care with access to a known, effective and impartial mechanism for reporting complaints or concerns regarding their treatment or conditions of placement.
  • Enable children to meaningfully participate in all decisions concerning them according to their age and maturity.
  • Limit changes in care setting as they can be detrimental to children’s development.
  • Ensure short-term placements facilitate appropriate, permanent, family-based solutions.

* as outlined in the Alliance’s first set of recommendations for the reunifications of separated children with their families.

 

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