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Case Management for Children in Need of Alternative Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic (Part 1)

Learn more about case management and alternative care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic it is possible the number of child protection cases will rise. This may lead to more children being at risk of separation from the care of parents, or other primary caregivers, and in need of alternative care – for example, the need to be placed in foster care.

There are also millions of children already in alternative care because they have lost the care of parents or other adult/s who by law or custom are responsible for caring for them – their legal or customary caregiver.

Situations due to the COVID-19 pandemic that might contribute to the heightened risk of a child being placed in alternative care include:

  • Children who become separated from families and primary caregivers due to death, disability, or illness, if one or the other is isolated for quarantine, or the child is abandoned after they have received treatment or were quarantined
  • Children in households or care facilities which lead to tensions between caregivers and children and increased adult frustration and violence
  • Children where the loss of household/care facility income or other circumstances increase the risk of their engagement in child labour and are vulnerable to other forms of exploitation
  • Refugee, asylum-seeking, and migrant children who may have crossed a border before their caregiver and then the borders were closed – or when caregivers went ahead of the child and the border closed.

We also urge you to read the guidance that has been issued on the protection of children and alternative care during the COVID-19 Pandemic. This includes an overview of risks for children:

  • In kinship and foster care – due to carers needing to temporarily relinquish care of a child if, for example, their health is at risk, or they become ill, or cannot cope financially
  • In residential settings – including institutions, group homes, boarding schools, detention centres, and shelters/transit centres – where rapid closures mean children are being returned to their families and communities – and countries – without any proper preparation. Children remaining in a group environment such as residential facilities face the risk of infections spreading quickly. This is especially a concern for children with disabilities who, due to specific pre-existing conditions or impairments, including immune deficiencies, may be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and being more severely affected by it
  • Who are unaccompanied and separated refugees, migrants, and internally displaced and may face additional challenges due to such issues as lack of documentation, linguistic ability, stigma, and discrimination. They may also become at a heightened risk of deportation and returned to countries against their will and to situations that may not be safe
  • Living on the streets – their access to help and services may become even more challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic. They may face arrests and detention. Many will lose their usual ways to earn money. Those now living alone on the streets may be additionally vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence
  • Deprived of liberty and living in such settings as detention centres
  • Now in independent living arrangements where they may suffer extreme social isolation and lack access to financial and other practical support.

Care Plans

As part of a case management process – especially when undertaking child protection assessments and decision making – the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children and the accompanying handbook, ‘Moving Forward: Implementing the ‘Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children’, urge us to take into consideration the ‘necessity’ principle.

This principle means no child should be removed from parental care – or that of other legal or customary caregivers – unless in their best interests and necessary for their protection. The ‘suitability’ principle’ means a child should be placed in a good quality alternative care placement that most suits their individual circumstances, needs, and wishes.

If it is assessed as being necessary to provide a child with alternative care, it is important that a Care Plan is developed for each child. These Plans should be prepared before any child enters an alternative care placement and include such information as:

  • Named persons with responsibility for the child whilst in care, their roles and responsibilities – including any legal status
  • Services and support for the child (and parents or other caregivers) will be offered, by whom, when, and how
  • The legal status of the child
  • A schedule when the placement will be reviewed so that any changes in a child’s situation can be responded to.

Care Plans should be directed towards the child being returned to their family or legal or customary caregiver as soon as it is safe and possible to do so. This includes plans for family reunification for unaccompanied and separated children – including those who are refugees and migrants. More information on this process can be found on the UNHCR and ICRC websites. If you are interested, you will also find short training courses on family reunification on the IFRC Learning Platform which you can sign into here.

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COVID-19: Adapting Child Protection Case Management

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