Cover Image
close this bookTechnical notes: Special Considerations for Programming in Unstable Situations (UNICEF, 2000, 490 p.)
close this folderChapter 4: Children Separated from Families
View the documentRationale
View the documentBasic Principles
Open this folder and view contentsField-Level Strategies and Actions
View the documentConsiderations for Interim Care
Open this folder and view contentsArrangements for Interim Care
Open this folder and view contentsFamily reunion and alternative long-term placements
View the documentCoordination and Partnerships
View the documentFurther Guidance
Open this folder and view contentsPanels


Few threats to a child’s well-being and long-term development equal that of being unaccompanied. Involuntary separation from both family and community protection, sometimes across national borders, greatly increases the child’s risk of exposure to violence, physical abuse, exploitation, and even death. Surviving children face malnutrition, illness, physical and psychosocial trauma, and impaired cognitive and emotional development. Unaccompanied girls are at especially high risk of sexual abuse, and boys, of forced or ‘voluntary’ participation in violence and armed conflict.

General Aims

· Reunite each unaccompanied child with his/her family as quickly as possible;

· Ensure the survival, protection and well-being of children through interim care;

· Assure care meets the emotional, psychological and developmental needs and is appropriate to the culture of each child;

· Arrange appropriate long-term care when reunification cannot be achieved within a reasonable period of time.

It has been estimated that unaccompanied children make up at least 2 to 5 per cent of the total population in many refugee situations. Experience worldwide shows that the vast majority of ‘unaccompanied’ children have living parents or other relatives willing and able to care for the child, and that these relatives can be located through well-organized tracing activities. Tracing often requires an extended period of time; and in the interim, unaccompanied children urgently require appropriate care and protection (See Panels 1 and 2 for details about unaccompanied children).

Supporting strategic objectives include:

· ensuring widespread dissemination of clear policies for unaccompanied children;

· identifying and mobilizing trained professionals (i.e. social workers specialised on child welfare) within the population and, if necessary, from elsewhere in the country, to define needs and establish appropriate programmes;