We’re building a new UNICEF.org.
As we swap out old for new, pages will be in transition. Thanks for your patience – please keep coming back to see the improvements.

At a glance: Haiti

Call centre responds to needs of separated children in Haitian quake zone

© UNICEF Haiti/2010/Monier
Operators take in-coming calls about unaccompanied children at a UNICEF-supported call centre in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.

By Cifora Monier

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, 15 June 2010 – “Hello, Separated Children Call Centre, how can I help you?” an operator asked. “Where exactly did you say the child is currently? He is at the health Centre? Did the child come by himself or was he brought in by someone? Thank you for calling – we will dispatch two case workers who will arrive at the centre in 30 minutes.”

The Separated Children Call Centre was set up immediately following the 12 January earthquake in Haiti in order to address the situation of children separated from their families. The emergency made it is imperative to identify, register and document both unaccompanied and separated children as quickly as possible.

UNICEF jointly leads this effort with its partners Save the Children, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Rescue Committee. UNICEF Haiti’s Child Protection Programme also has over 10 local partners working on family tracing.

Inter-agency team

The call-centre phone number, which is toll-free throughout the country, is intended for use by front-line service providers – such as nurses, doctors, child-friendly space monitors and UNICEF non-governmental partners – who could have firsthand information on children separated from their families. These key people are trained to identify and respond to separated children’s needs.

© UNICEF Haiti/2010/Monier
The Call Centre for Separated Children in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is a joint partnership spearheaded by UNICEF, Save the Children, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Rescue Committee.

The staff at the call centre, which is based in UNICEF’s Haiti office, includes two database officers, one coordinator, an agent from the Institut du Bien Etre Social et de Recherches and at least four telephone operators.

“This inter-agency collaboration has been instrumental in mobilizing communities and government social workers to increase their capacity to protect children and respond to their needs in a coordinated and timely manner,” said UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Christina Torsein.

Step-by-step approach

When a call is first received, the centre staff’s first task is to identify the child’s precise physical location. Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, has been divided into sectors to facilitate the work and deploy partners as rapidly as possible.

Once this geographic information has been established, staff at the call centre contact the NGO responsible for that particular neighborhood. Case workers, always working in pairs, are deployed to the location. 

At this point, the case workers meet and register the child. They also determine whether the child is in a safe and secure place. Once this has been established, family tracing is an immediate priority. The process can result in immediate reunification or, depending on circumstances, it may take several weeks.

Key questions

Family reunification depends on several key factors:

  • Is the child old enough to express himself or herself?
  • Does the child know his or her home address – and if not, does the child recall any phone numbers?
  • Does the child know the names of his or her parents, siblings or next of kin?
  • Does the child remember a specific landmark near his or her home? 

Drawings also help children jog their memories and remember things they may have forgotten.

Host families’ kindness

To date, some 1,700 children have been registered since the earthquake. Many of them are being hosted by neighbours who have been kind enough to take them in until their immediate or extended families are found.

Most of these children are well cared for, despite the meagre means of those who have taken them in. Many host families barely have enough resources for their own survival but share equally whatever they have.

“However taxing the challenges may be, each child is an individual requiring personalized follow-up, and despite how quickly we want to reunify them, it sometimes takes longer than we hope,” Ms. Torsein said, adding that in some cases there is no trace or news of the whereabouts of a child’s family members. 

“They may have perished in the earthquake or were forced to relocate,” she said, “thereby delaying the reunification efforts.”



New enhanced search