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Facts for Life

Emergencies: preparedness and reponse

Supporting Information


It is generally preferable for children to be cared for by their parents or other usual caregivers because it makes children feel more secure. If separation occurs, every effort should be made to reunite the child with his or her family, if it is in the child's best interest.

In emergencies, it is the duty of the government or the authorities in charge to ensure that children are not separated from their parents or other caregivers.

If separation occurs, the government or authorities in charge have the responsibility to provide special protection and care for these children. They should first register all unaccompanied, separated and orphaned children and make sure their essential needs are met.

Every effort should then be made to find the child's family and to reunite the child with his or her family, if it is in the best interest of the child.

Interim care must be provided for children separated from their families. Where possible this can be provided by the child's extended family or by a family from the child's community until the child is reunited with parents or relatives or placed with a foster family. Every effort should be made to keep siblings together.

If a child is temporarily placed in a foster family, it is the duty of those responsible for the placement to follow up on the child's care and well-being. They should also ensure that the foster family is provided with the means to adequately care for the child.

Children who have become separated from their parents in an emergency cannot be assumed to be orphans. They are not available for adoption. As long as the fate of a child's parents and/or other close relatives cannot be determined, each separated child must be assumed to have parents and/or close relatives who are still living.

Long-term care arrangements should not be made during an emergency. After a suitable period of investigation, if parents or relatives cannot be traced or are not available to care for the child, a foster family or domestic adoptive family, preferably in the child's community, should be found for the child. Childcare institutions or orphanages should always be considered a temporary measure and a last resort.

A move to a new community or country can be stressful, especially if the child's family has fled violence or a disaster. Displaced children sometimes may have to learn a new language and culture. Often, schools and community organizations can assist children and their families with the transition and integration into their new community.