Field Handbook on Unaccompanied and Separated Children

Sarah Uppard and Lili Birnbaum - Inter-agency Working Group on Unaccompanied and Separated Children

This handbook offers comprehensive practical guidance on working with unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) in emergencies. The handbook provides guidance on preventing the separation of children from their families in emergencies as well as working with children after separation. Each chapter guides practitioners at all stages of the process, including: case management and properly identifying UASC, documentation, alternative care, family tracing and verification, and family reunification and reintegration. 


Children can easily become separated from their parents, relatives or usual caregivers in emergencies – whether rapid or slow in onset, or resulting from natural disaster, armed conflict or other situations of violence. Lacking the care and protection of their families, unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) are at increased risk of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence. Indeed, such children have urgent needs: to be identified, to be provided with appropriate alternative care and to be reunited with family. It is imperative that further family separation is prevented and that an immediate and comprehensive response to the needs of these children is a priority in all emergencies, beginning with preparation for emergencies and prevention of separation. To be effective, these interventions should be implemented as part of a broader child protection response and integrated within an overall protection response.

The need for a field handbook on UASC

The Inter-agency Guiding Principles on Unaccompanied and Separated Children established the core principles for working with such children and were unique when they were developed in 2004. Indeed, they were endorsed by many agencies and routinely referred to by governments, lawmakers and practitioners. However, more recent emergencies, such as the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and recent conflicts in the Syrian Arab Republic and South Sudan, highlighted the need for further technical guidance to support the implementation of these principles and to strengthen capacity building in programming for UASC. This field handbook and accompanying training materials have been developed by the Inter-agency Working Group on Unaccompanied and Separated Children (IAWG-UASC) to meet the demand for comprehensive, practical guidance on working with some of the most vulnerable children affected by emergencies.

The handbook elaborates on and serves as a complement to the guiding principles, which are still valid and applicable. It is also compatible with current inter-agency normative tools and draws on recent guidance, in particular the Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action; 1 the 2010 Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, endorsed by the United Nations, together with its accompanying implementation handbook;2 and the Alternative Care in Emergencies (ACE) Toolkit. 3

Purpose and intended audience of the handbook

The purpose of the field handbook is to provide operational guidance for child protection staff and all other actors working on prevention and response to family separation in emergencies. The handbook sets out to ensure that responses meet agreed inter-agency standards (where relevant), and are complementary. Moreover, it seeks to ensure that responses are appropriate to the particular situation of individual unaccompanied and separated children, and in their best interests, emphasizing the importance of working with affected communities, including children themselves, and building on their strengths and resilience.

The Field Handbook on Unaccompanied and Separated Children was produced by the Inter-agency Working Group on Unaccompanied and Separated Children in conjunction with the Toolkit on Unaccompanied and Separated Children