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close this bookRefugee Emergencies. A Community-Based Approach (UNHCR, 1996, 142 p.)
close this folderPart Two. Refugees at Risk
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentVulnerable Groups, Minorities and Isolated Refugees
View the documentRefugee Children
View the documentUnaccompanied Children
View the documentRefugee Women
View the documentSingle-Parent Households
View the documentThe Elderly
View the documentThe Disabled
View the documentMental Health

Single-Parent Households


"I was very dependent on my husband, and all of a sudden he was gone and I had to flee, come to a new place not knowing a soul and be responsible for nine children. The oldest was ten. I can't tell you the hell I went through during that period."

Because of the dangers and hardships inherent in many refugee situations, it is quite common for a significant proportion of refugee families to be headed by a single parent, often by a woman.

Causes: Events that lead to a high proportion of single parent families in some refugee situations include:

· the deaths of family members
· separation during the events that lead the refugees to flee
· the departure of men to look for work or for other purposes.

Problems: This group is likely to experience difficulties including:

· lack of mobility due to child-minding responsibilities
· lack of time to earn an income due to domestic responsibilities
· difficulty in achieving self-support
· difficulty with access to assistance and in arranging for a reasonable place to live
· concern with physical security.
· the likelihood of family disintegration among single-parent families headed by men.

Prevention and Solutions: The following action can help prevent or resolve such problems:

· organizing co-operative child care among families

· establishing child care centres

· mobilizing friends, neighbours, relatives to help with child care

· establishing breastfeeding mother support groups

· decentralization of health, nutrition and other services to locations dose to where refugees are living, or the use of mobile units to provide these services

· helping set up cottage industries

· vocational training to enable the head or some other member of the family to gain employment

· helping refugee women to set up mutual support groups

Often accustomed to maintaining a low social profile and depending on a father or husband, women are in a particularly difficult position when they suddenly become the family head. If they are not assertive, they may find themselves at the end of the queue for the allocation of food, shelter and other basic items. To improve their access to assistance:

· include refugee women in the planning and implementation of assistance
· monitor closely the distribution of aid and services provided, and their results.

Setting up residential centres for unaccompanied women and women heads of households can provide physical security as well as opportunities for cooperative child care, income-producing activities, skills training and other services.

Single-Parent Families Headed by Men: These households face a greater likelihood of breaking up than those headed by women. Because child-rearing in many societies is largely the responsibility of women, a father who finds himself the sole parent may feel unable to keep his family together. Steps that can help keep such families together may include:

· arranging for child care

· arranging for practical help and encouragement from neighbours, religious leaders, community leaders, refugee community workers.

· providing training in parenthood skills and responsibilities

· counselling fathers to help them accept their role as single parents.

Check List

What special problems is the single-parent household facing?

Are there any friends, relatives and/or neighbours who can be mobilized to assist the family, to solve problems? If not, what alternative support system can be set up in their favour?

Can the family provide information to trace missing family members?

What has happened to the husband/wife who is not present?

Do the children and parent seem to be: healthy - adequately fed - adequately dressed?

What skills and possibilities does the parent or any older child have to work and support the family? Are they aware of, and able to use, appropriate services and/or training opportunities?

If anyone has been sick: When? Were they treated by a doctor? What was the illness? Is anyone still taking or need medicines?

Have the children been fully immunized (in line with local EPI)?

If parent is a mother, is she pregnant? If so, does she attend a clinic? Does she receive/need any special health care which is available?

If there is an infant or young child in the household, how is he/she fed?

If there is a mother, is she able to breastfeed?

Is adequate support available to ensure optimal feeding practices?