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Collecting information for care and protection assessments

Making assessments - video examples
Okay, so I’m Abena Yamoah, and I work with International Social Service West Africa. And I am the country supervisor as well as the regional case manager for the West Africa network. It is important to understand the individual needs and assessments of children when they move, because these children are moving for different reasons. And every child is unique. Every child is different. We cannot put all the children moving in the same basket. So it is important to do the assessment so that we can understand the history of the child, where they are coming from, and why they are moving. To make assessments of needs and then the circumstances, you know, it’s very funny, because we work in a network.
Now, what is the status of making an assessment? We cannot put all children in the same basket. So it means that you have to understand that child, you have to show empathy, not sympathy, because we often confuse sympathy with empathy. And to do an assessment, it actually follows a procedure. So for us in West Africa, we’ve tried to come up with a simple methodology that all our case managers use, and it’s a training that we take them through. So if a new person comes on board, it will be easy for the person to adopt, because on the other side, to make an assessment, do you just go with a piece of paper, and then you start asking the child questions?
No. It wouldn’t work, because the child will tell you what you want to hear, but will not give the right information. First of all, we try to identify who this child is when we are trying to make an assessment, because when you asked me to tell me your name, because you want to identify me as a unique individual. So we first of all try to find the identity of the child by asking the name. We also ask the age. If we cannot tell, well, we are in Africa, so we can estimate that the child is about this years.
Depending on the age of the child, then we can go further to ask some other questions, like nationality, where he’s coming from, why he’s on the move, what are his wishes, what he wants to do, the situation of the family back at home. I mean, who are his parents-, we try to identify all that. But on the other hand, if we’re looking at the age of the child, if the child is so young, then we realise that we have very limited information to ask. So depending on the age of the child, and then the developmental stage the child is, that determines the kind of questions we have to ask. All these are important. Why?
Because this is a child on the move. Now, why is the child moving? That’s the first thing. So in order to understand, like I say, the history of the child, we look at the individual needs of the child, what the child needs immediately. So if the child needs, like, food, clothing, healthcare medical care, we do it. Now, another thing we also look at is the psychosocial support we can give to the child, because if it’s a child that has been trafficked, abused, or running away from forced marriage, we have to understand that. So looking at the health needs, medical needs, psychosocial supports, we address all that.
Then we can accompany the child, because for us, accompanying the child is not just returning the child back home, but it’s to accompany the child. He grows up in a safe environment, and then when the child is autonomous, we can say, okay, a job has been well-done. We also look at the educational needs of the child. This is very important. Why? Because if the child is in school or not in school, it would determine, or it would guide you on how you can accompany and then support the child. Doing an assessment in a participatory and child-friendly manner is very important, because the first thing is that you have to win the trust of the child.
You cannot just-, I mean, I come to do an assessment. It’s not just about collecting information when you are doing an assessment, but it’s about understanding the child. It’s about knowing who this child is. It’s about knowing what the child wants, what he wants to do. If it’s just collecting data information for your personal use, you may not be able to get everything. But when you put the child at the centre, and then you ask questions in a friendly way, you ask things around the child. Then the child will tell you what he or she really wants. In doing an assessment, it’s very funny, because when you-, two people go and meet that child, one, the child panics.
So the child would be quiet, observing both adults who are coming there to do the assessment. And then the child, they are very smart, because as they go along, they learn a lot of things while they are on the move. So they try to observe everybody. It is very important that one person goes in, meets the child, discusses with the child. When the child has won the trust, the first person of reference for the child can now explain to their child that okay, I will be coming with my friend tomorrow, so when my friend comes, my friend will be trying to find out what you need, whether you want to go back to school.
If there are health implications involved, you also have to explain to the child that we have to go to the hospital so that we look at this and that and that. Once that child has won the trust of one person, you can now bring the other people in, because if three people go in at the same time, it confuses the child. The child becomes destabilised. And he or she may decide not to talk, and you can spend a very long time without getting the correct information.

In this video we hear from Abena Yamoah, Country Supervisor and Regional Case Manager for International Social Service in West Africa. Abena tells us how each child is an individual, and why it is important to make an assessment of their needs and circumstances. You will also see social workers in refugee camps in Northern Ethiopia speaking with unaccompanied and separated children and assessing and reviewing their needs, circumstances, and wishes.

We hear Abena speak about assessing the psychosocial needs of children. We have not covered this important subject in detail in this course but you can find additional reading material in the ‘See Also’ section at the bottom of the page.

We have already considered why, and when, we need to do assessments. Now we will think about the information we need to collect so that well informed decisions can be made about the care and protection of a child. This might be an unaccompanied or separated child, or it might be an accompanied child who is thought to be at possible risk of harm.

Many handbooks and practice manuals have been published that provide information on the assessment process. For this course we have combined some of this information to form the assessment questions listed below.

At first, this may seem to be a daunting task. However, as we have already noted, this information might be gathered in stages through an initial and a comprehensive assessment. You may need to gather this information over the course of several different meetings with a child, especially as you will need to adapt and be sensitive to the child’s ability, psychosocial health, and willingness to participate in the assessment process. Some questions cover specialist subjects such as health and psychosocial issues, so let us remember how important it is we work together with different professionals to contribute to the assessment process.

All professionals who participate in assessments should be trained in child-sensitive approaches. They should also be able to recognise if a child needs psychosocial support before being able to continue with any assessment. It is important that psychosocial support for children should be carried out by those who have received training to do so.

It would be best if you could use standardised assessment forms and information gathering protocols that have been developed and shared between all the different professional sectors and agencies. We have provided you with additional reading at the bottom of the page, including a few examples of assessment forms and procedures. They have been developed with the consideration of international agency standards and/or adapted to meet the different contexts and environments in which they are being used.

Assessment Questions

The assessment form should provide details of the person who carried out the assessment and when it took place. You should also try and gather as much as possible of the following information:

1. Personal information about the child

  • Full name of the child
  • Nickname – if a child has a nickname or preferred abbreviation of their name
  • Country they were born in
  • Country of permanent residence – make a note of the name of the country where the child normally lived if this is different from where they were born
  • Date of birth and age – a child might not know this so provide whatever information it is possible to gather:
    • Was the child’s birth registered in the country they were born in
    • Any details that verify their age – for example, is there any documentation with their age on it
    • If there is no documentary evidence and an assumption of age is being made, it should be noted in the file that this is an assumption, and how this decision was reached. This note is important so others can realise that this might not necessarily be the child’s genuine age. Please remember that if the young person you are interviewing asserts they are under the age of 18, they must be given the benefit of the doubt and recorded as a child
  • Details of any identity documents or registration numbers, etc., from their own country
  • Details if the child has been registered or given a registration or any form of identity number since arriving in the country where the assessment is taking place – or in previous countries they have passed through
  • Gender

2. The child’s history prior to leaving home and/or the care of parents, customary/legal caregivers or other family members

  • Family composition in their country of origin, or country of permanent residency. Who did they live with? If this was not their parents, what were the reasons?
  • Relationship with family – parents, siblings, members of extended family and other people they lived with or had responsibility for their care. Where are their parents, or anyone else who was their legal/customary carer? This is also an opportunity to try and gain an initial understanding of whether there had been any form of abuse or neglect while they were living with their primary carers
  • Level of education they have reached
  • Any work they did in their home country. If so, what details of the type of work and, how often

3. The history of the child since leaving home and the care of parents, customary/legal caregivers of other family members

  • Reason for leaving their home country
  • Reason for entering the country they are now in
  • Desired or planned length of stay in the new country
  • How long have they been on the move
  • Whom did they travel with
  • Information about friends and other people they knew who supported them during their travels
  • Previous care arrangements – where did they live and who was responsible for them
  • Indications of any abuse suffered along the journey. This might be mentioned by the child themselves or be something you suspect while listening to the child. It might be your first impression, but if you are not trained to make such an assessment then it should be checked/assessed by someone who is professionally qualified
  • Any fears and worries the child has about their safety, right now or in the future
  • How has leaving their family, friends, country etc. affected them
  • What they did, if anything, to earn money while they were on their journey. This might also help indicate if they were taken advantage of by traffickers or smugglers

4. A child’s current situation and wishes for the future

  • Details of the place a child is currently living. What are their preferences in terms of the type of alternative care they would like? (*please see the note below about alternative care).
  • Education – current access to education, if any. Any hopes and wishes to continue their education or training
  • Health – previous and current health concerns including any indication of psycho-social concerns, pregnancy etc. Details of any disability. Need to access health services
  • Employment – is the child working and if yes, ask about the type of work, how many hours are they working each day or week, and who is the employer
  • Legal Services – has any legal process started, do they have a legal representative and if so what are the details?
  • Protection risks and concerns – is the child at risk of, or has the child been subjected to any form of abuse? Are they under the control of criminals? Do they face a risk of being trafficked? Do they need to be immediately moved to somewhere safe?
  • A child’s concerns and hopes, both immediately and in the long term

*What form of alternative care would the child prefer? The options are described later in the course and could include living:

  • In family-based care, for example with a foster family
  • In family-like care, for example a small group home with other children
  • Semi-independent living, such as a supervised apartment with others

Sharing information

We should make sure that a child is not subjected to repeated questioning and assessments by different people. This means cooperation, coordination and careful sharing of information between different professionals and agencies. It also calls for those of us responsible for assessments to have secure access to previous assessments. This might, for example, be through a shared database either within a country or for cross border use. Always bear in mind that such databases must be governed by confidentiality protocols. Next week will we discuss issues of data protection as well as cross border cooperation.

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

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Caring for Children Moving Alone: Protecting Unaccompanied and Separated Children

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