International Rescue Committee Steps Up Aid and Protection for Haitian Children
The International Rescue Committee is launching healing, recreational and protection programs for Haitian children and expanding efforts to reunite separated children with their families.
“Tens of thousands of Haitian children are homeless, traumatized, disoriented and distressed, and those who have been separated from family members are especially vulnerable,” says Rebecca Chandler, a child protection expert with the IRC’s Emergency Response Team in Haiti. “Every effort must be made locally to trace parents and relatives, reunite separated children with family and ensure that children most at risk are safeguarded from exploitation and abuse.”
The IRC is working to address immediate and critical needs of vulnerable children and youth. IRC child protection experts and local partners have started setting up large tented “child friendly spaces” in locations across Port au Prince and are beginning a range of healing, recreational and learning programs for children and teens.
“For young people who have lost so much — homes, schools, parents, friends, everything that’s familiar — these programs will restore a sense of calm, safety and routine when everything around them is chaotic and uncertain,” says Chandler.
The IRC is also working with other agencies to identify, register and aid separated children.
IRC-supported child friendly spaces and clinics are being staffed with case workers who will ensure that the most vulnerable children are cared for and receive basic services, including food. The case workers will also serve as community coordinators in efforts to register and assist separated children—working closely with outreach workers who are already searching the streets and settlements to identify separated children and other kids with special needs.
The IRC is helping facilitate training sessions this week and next aimed at helping local organizations to collect information and register unaccompanied minors. The information will be entered into a database, which is one part of a key inter-agency information-sharing and support system managed by the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children-UK and UNICEF. The system, to be rolled out in coordination with Haitian authorities, will speed and support family tracing, reunification and follow-up in a standardized and coordinated way.
Jennifer Morgan, who is based at the IRC and manages the inter-agency program, says the priority is identifying unaccompanied children and ensuring that they are safe and cared for where they are now, while efforts are made to trace their families.
“Plucking children out of their familiar surroundings and depositing them with strangers in strange places not only jeopardizes family reunification efforts, but also causes additional distress and instability,” says Morgan. “Even worse, without a structured process of protecting children, they risk falling into the hands of traffickers or other ill-intentioned individuals."
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