26.06.2018 - News

Urgent: Recommendations for the Reunification of Separated Children with their Families

The Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action is an interagency coalition of nearly 100 member organisations working to protect children who face adversity. We call for urgent action to rapidly reunify separated children with their families and end detention, in accordance with their best interests.

Based on our collective experiences, lessons learned, and accepted standards of care and protection for children, we urge all responsible parties to:

- Facilitate rapid family reunification

- Provide mental health and psychosocial support to children and their families

- Ensure that administrative and legal procedures meet children’s best interests

- Prevent further family separation by ending the use of detention

Current situation

Over a five-week period, at least 2,300 children were separated from their families at the southern US border. The recent executive order seeks to end family separation through family detention. Children are now being detained with their parents at the same processing centers. Separation is still possible as these children cannot be legally detained beyond 20 days, while the time required to process asylum claims or immigration proceedings is significantly larger.

Potential harm and risk to children if nothing is done

Both family separation and detention — unaccompanied or as a family — have proven toxic for children’s overall development and long-term well-being. The long-lasting damage to a child’s well-being starts almost immediately and increases with the duration of the separation. This is especially true if the situation has not been explained to the child in an appropriate way, or the child has experienced previous or multiple adversities.

Family separation and shelters expose children to increased risks of neglect, violence, exploitation and abuse. Children cannot fully develop without strong emotional bonds with their primary caregivers. This applies to all children — from infants to adolescents. Sudden, forced separation of children from parents can inflict harm commensurate with the harm children experience during humanitarian crises such as living in war zones or refugee camps.

Family detention has a highly detrimental impact on the long-term well-being of children and their parents. In addition to direct adverse impacts on children’s well-being, detention also diminishes parents’ capacity to shield children from long-lasting psychological and cognitive harms.

“Children have physical, psychosocial, emotional and cognitive needs that are crucial for their development and can be compromised by experiencing detention, all the more so if they are separated from their parents.”

Maria Bray, Psychosocial counsellor at Terre des hommes


Recommendation 1: Facilitate rapid family reunification

- Through an expanded task force on reunification of unaccompanied children, coordinate with all relevant government agencies and child welfare actors for the rapid identification, documentation, tracing, and reunification of separated children.

- Ensure Standard Operating Procedures are in place that delineate roles and responsibilities (functional and geographic) of those involved in the care, reunification and determining the legal status of separated children. These should include strengthened information-sharing protocols and case management systems that address the individual needs of children and their families.

- Partner with relevant immigrant communities and civil society organizations to facilitate rapid family reunification.

- Link children’s and parents’ claims to ensure their cases are processed together.

- Respect the rights of parents and children to select their preferred reunification plan.

- Stop moving separated children far from their parents or to multiple locations.

Recommendation 2: Provide mental health and psychosocial support to children and their families

- Ensure daily contact between children and families and prepare them for reunification.

- Strengthen access to child-appropriate mental health and psychosocial support services.

- Update children, families, and caregivers on their cases through appropriate platforms in a timely, safe, accessible, and age and gender appropriate manner.

Recommendation 3: Ensure administrative and legal procedures meet the best interests of the child

- Limit children’s exposure to processing centers, detention or institutional care facilities.

- Ensure that all personnel who interact with children are appropriately trained in disability– and age–appropriate, gender–sensitive, trauma-informed care and support.

- Establish and adhere to administrative and legal procedures that treat separated children in a non-discriminatory, age-appropriate and trauma–informed manner.

- Provide separated children with access to timely legal representation.

- Update children using means of communication that are appropriate to their age, gender and disability.

Recommendation 4: Prevent further family separation by ending the use of detention

- Provide non-custodial, community-based alternatives to detention that support family unity and reflect the family’s changing needs as their cases proceed.

- Place all children awaiting reunification in family-based care in the least restrictive setting possible, where their best interests are the primary consideration.

- At all times, ensure children have access to adequate food, shelter, health care, rest, educational, social and recreational activities, daily contact with family members, and professional psychosocial and legal services.