A young boy in a black and red winter coat and gloves holds a roll of blankets above his head. He has a look of concentration on his face. there is a woman standing behind him with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders.
A boy carries warm blankets on his shoulders in the Miratovac Refugee Aid Point which provides support services and an opportunity to rest. Children arrive physically exhausted, scared, distressed and often in need of medical assistance.

Case Management: Alternative care and protection assessments

Last week we identified the harm that unaccompanied and separated children can experience in their home country, while transiting other countries, and when they arrive in a country in which they will remain. Providing these children with suitable alternative care in a safe and caring environment is not only their right, but also one way to help to reduce the risks they face, and get access to other services. We also considered the fact that the situation of some children travelling with parent/s or legal/customary caregiver/s might also need to be assessed if there are concerns about their protection

So how do care and protection assessments help us make the best decisions for each child so they receive appropriate care and support?

The first step of case management is to carry out a care and protection assessment. This should provide us with all the information we need to make well informed, accurate decisions about how to best support a child. This means gathering all the information necessary to systematically evaluate:

  • The child’s individual circumstances, needs and wishes
  • The vulnerabilities and risks a child may be facing

This is relevant in situations when they are transiting a country and in the country of their final destination. It is relevant whether a child will be offered short-term or longer-term alternative care and support.

What assessments are needed?

  1. An initial care and protection assessment
    A care and protection assessment should be carried out as soon as possible after a child has been identified as unaccompanied or separated, or accompanied but at risk. In emergency situations, as, for example, when large numbers of people are passing through a border at once, it may only be possible to carry out an initial assessment. Some agencies call this a rapid assessment - a quick process concentrating on addressing immediate alternative care, protection, and other needs.

    For example, the initial assessment might only address urgent concerns such as the provision of food, medical attention, clothes etc. In circumstances where the child might be in danger - for example, from traffickers or other criminals - it is important we check these risks and take immediate protection measures. The assessment should also consider appropriate alternative care - which organisation should immediately look after the child.

    The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) is a mechanism for inter-agency coordination of humanitarian assistance. Guidance taken from the IASC handbook recommends this assessment should be done within 24 hours and certainly not longer than 48 hours after the unaccompanied or separated child has been identified.

  2. A comprehensive assessment
    If it is not possible to fully assess the child’s circumstances in the first instance, then within the shortest possible time a second, more comprehensive, assessment should be conducted. Guidance taken from the Inter Agency Standing Committee handbook recommends this assessment should be carried out within one week of a child being identified as being at risk. The IASC also recommends you use the results of the assessment to develop a plan for a child’s alternative care and protection no more than two weeks after the assessment is completed.

    We do understand this may be a challenge. For example, collecting all the necessary information may take considerable time. You might need to wait a while if a child is distressed or unwilling to trust you or other workers with personal information. A child might not be able to provide all the information you need. You may not be able to verify some of what they say. Please remember that multi-sectoral working and sharing professional opinions with colleagues from other sectors can help in deciding the best response for a child.

Assessments are part of a very important process to make sure a child is not placed or kept in an unsuitable temporary care placement for weeks on end, while further decisions are being made, and that they receive other needed support in a timely manner.

In the next course step we will think about the type of information we need to collect to fulfill the assessment process.

The ‘See Also’ section below has links to other reading material that may be of interest to you.

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This article is from the free online course:

Caring for Children Moving Alone: Protecting Unaccompanied and Separated Children

University of Strathclyde