Background on the Haitian Earthquake

Unaccompanied and Separated Children

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Unaccompanied and Separated Children

  1. Procedures and materials to respond to issues of UASC

As mentioned above, the IA guiding principles on UASC continue to be highly regarded and were consulted extensively in Haiti. However, there were numerous challenges in the UASC response, particularly in the early weeks. There was a lack of agreement at the beginning of the response on the registration form, and a two step process was initiated, which involved initial registration using a short form then a more detailed process afterwards. The registration form continued to undergo several different revisions and there seemed to be no clear mechanism for managing versions of the form with a focal point system and ensuring final sign-off. After a long and difficult process, a longer form was finally developed but not using the generic form of the interagency CP Information Management System or the ICRC form. All of the forms were finalised the week of April 19 except for one on missing children.

Some of the other challenges noted included registration delays due to lack of logistics and basic resources, such as photocopying and transport, the difficulty in ensuring compatibility with the ICRC registration form and that use of the Interagency CP Information Management System could not start as early as possible because registration forms were not ready for customization.

Despite the challenges, respondents felt that there was good will in the process and a willingness among working group members to coordinate. Managers reported that interagency training was helpful in ensuring consistency in applying standards and principles, and increased a sense of solidarity amongst front line case workers. However, staff needed clarity on the forms and procedures that they were to use in the protection of unaccompanied and separated children. FTR kits containing basic materials would have facilitated the timeliness of registering UASC and responding to their needs.


    1. The IAWG UASC needs to be reinvigorated to develop clear guidelines – complete with an indicative framework – on customizing FTR forms in a systematic manner.

    2. Local customization and/or translation of FTR forms must be achieved within a clear timeline (e.g. 2 weeks) to be set by the IAWG UASC.

    3. Registration must not be delayed by 1.2, and should proceed using the standard, global IA agency forms.

    4. IAWG UASC should revisit the need for “FTR kits” and agencies should be encouraged to consider how and where to stock a minimum quantity in strategic locations so they can be deployed quickly.

    5. The Coordinator should ensure that there is early consideration of using tools related to the IA CP IMS (e.g. forms, information sharing protocols, database), as they can improve the quality of case management.

  1. Need for experienced and/or appropriately trained staff

It was extremely difficult to recruit specialists in the various technical areas that make up work on UASC and there was a lack of experienced staff on the ground in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake to lead the response to separated and unaccompanied children. Numerous interviewees felt that over the years, the sector has not been able to retain its international workforce, for which differing explanations have been put forward. There was a sense from many respondents to the earthquake in Haiti that both technical programming and the external perception of CP as a sector have suffered accordingly.

Experienced staff would have recognised the need to initiate simultaneous work on all phases of the separation process (i.e. prevention, registration, family tracing, interim care and reintegration); otherwise, the work tends to become segmented and siloed. Similarly, specialised and experienced staff can identify the need to move rapidly on the issue of child trafficking across international borders during an emergency, as time is a factor, particularly in contexts where it is a known risk. A result of having so few technical specialists identified and deployed meant that staff on the ground was called upon to do everything - coordination, training, programmatic response development -to the point of almost becoming paralyzed.

Front-line staff expressed that they would benefit from a coordinated, IA training programme that focuses on practical skills and knowledge on case management; without it they can feel overwhelmed by numbers, uncertain where to start and how to proceed, confused by differing approaches within the sector and in competition with each other. Indeed the lack of such training and empowerment was evident in the triaging of UASC cases. Many children can be reunified quickly (within 2 days or less) if they are properly identified and action is taken. In Haiti, there was a tendency to do extensive registration without initiating the follow-up action, such that long delays occurred between registering children and initiating family tracing.

Finally, response to UASC is one of the core elements of the CPiE sector, and yet in many cases, Child Protection staff members working in disaster-prone countries have received little or no training on the issue and little linkage has been made between on-going work with vulnerable caseloads and emergency response.


    1. The translation of child protection training material - including the CPiE CD Rom and ARC Resource Pack - into French, Spanish and Arabic should be prioritized.

    2. Case management training must stress skills and systems for triaging a caseload and the identification of both visible and invisible forms of separation.

    3. CPWG members should ensure that every CP employee receives basic training in UASC as part of their emergency preparedness planning, and that emphasis is placed on linkages with existing policies, information management procedures and caseload protocols

    4. IAWG members need to provide policy and guidance on the need to immediately triage UASC cases and train staff accordingly to avoid long delays.

  1. Challenges with Interim Care

In times of crisis, child protection actors are often put in the position of working with whatever resources and structures they have to hand, even if they do not meet international standards. Lessons learnt from Haiti demonstrate that the issue of interim care can be extremely sensitive post-emergency, as governments may feel that their national policies are being disregarded. Senior CPiE personnel need to clarify the humanitarian position and articulate it in a non-threatening manner to all relevant actors. Indeed, an MOU on interim care (or the wider issue of UASC) – even for the short term - with government is advisable (see recommendation 4.4 above). In contextualising such an agreement, it would be important to speak with a wide range of State actors who are mandated to protect children.

The engrained cultural acceptance of the use of restaveks and orphanages presented an extremely complex and emotive environment in which to programme a child protection emergency response. Over the initial 3 months, it became clear that some institutional arrangements would be required for the medium term care and protection of children, especially those who had disabilities or were trafficked.

In Haiti, a decision had been made by the agencies and the government that no foster program should be started within the first few months, due to lessons learned prior to the emergency. However, it became clear that in an emergency situation where placement with a foster family is rare or unknown, CPiE staff should consider the creation of a small, well-supervised foster family network to demonstrate the value and viability of this approach to interim care. In addition, spontaneous fostering needs to be encouraged and monitored through links to wider protection initiatives, such as livelihoods and camp management.

Finally, given the debates and media coverage in Haiti, the emergency may have provided the sector with an opportunity to frame the issue of foster care in a way that reduces long-term reliance on institutionalisation and / or international adoption.

Once again, respondents felt that it was extremely difficult to recruit specialists to this field of work, even leaving language barriers aside, as there are very few people remaining in the sector with experience of managing a complex interim care program. It will be important to retain people from this response.


    1. Concrete global guidance is required from the IAWG UASC regarding material support to foster families and reunification kits, as well as how to undertake a situational analysis to determine the appropriate use of institutional care during a crisis.

    2. In addition to on-going advocacy efforts, members of the CPWG should take advantage of the media coverage of the 1 year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake by championing the issue of foster care over orphanages and adoption.

  1. Other

Immediately after the declaration of a natural disaster, the closure of borders to unaccompanied minors or those suspected to be unaccompanied, as well as the suspension of international adoptions are important signals to deter efforts of those who wish to harm children and simultaneously, boost the resolve of national and international child protection actors.

In the first weeks after the massive natural disaster that affected Haiti, there were documented cases of medical teams – particularly military medical teams –unilaterally moving children within the country and sometimes evacuating them out of the country. A few CPiE respondents spoke of the difficulty those transfers caused in the registration and tracking of UASC and in causing family separation. These cases and the issues they raise will have long-term implications for the sector.


    1. UNICEF should prepare a draft statement and a briefing pack to be discussed with governments who have declared a state of emergency; it would call for the suspension of international adoption, in accordance with the provisions of the Hague Convention on inter-country adoption and / or the closure or close scrutiny of borders relating to the issue of unaccompanied minors.

    2. Members of the CPWG should open a dialogue with medical liaison personnel of key militaries to ensure the protection of children in any protocols that relate to civilian evacuation.

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