Palestine moves towards integrated social protection services for its most vulnerable children
it is not too late to restore dignity and to give the children a second chance, through the integrated social protection system that Palestine is building for its people.
During a recent visit to the State of Palestine, I had the opportunity to meet Ahmed, a sixty-year-old truck driver who lives on the outskirts of Ramallah. The story he told us is haunting, because of its desperate complexity and the acute deprivation of his children. In his cramped two-room home, with little more than bedding on the concrete floor for furniture, he shared the story of his family. He divorced his first wife, and two of the sons from this first marriage are in prison, he told us fighting back tears. With his second wife, he has four sons, between the ages of 10 and 15. Chronically short of money, his family has adopted a life on the run, leaving a trail of debts behind them. Ahmed admits freely that he has not been able to cater for his children – none of his children have birth certificates, none of them have ever been to school, to mention two of the most pressing concerns.
Mahmoud, the social worker from the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Social Development, who introduced us to Ahmed, explains that the family’s itinerant lifestyle has allowed the case to go unnoticed for so long. The case only comes to the Ministry’s attention when they were alerted by a community member from the neighbourhood where the family currently lives. Mahmoud worked hard to gain Ahmed’s trust. He soon established that the family’s living conditions were not fit for children. In addition to the poor housing and sanitation, Mahmoud suspects that the family lives in very close proximity to a drug den. Mahmoud reached the conclusion that to keep the children safe and to provide them with the support they so desperately need, the only solution was for them to be temporarily placed in a child protection centre. It was not easy to convince the parents and the children of this necessity, but Mahmoud persisted and obtained the required court order. Ahmed again is close to tears as this topic is discussed, but he agrees it is for the best and the parents are able to visit their children frequently.
At the child protection centre, we later meet Ahmed’s children – who are understandably reluctant to talk much to us. Mahmoud and the staff of the centre explain how they have brought together the different service providers who need to be involved in providing the multi-faceted support the children need. This includes legal support to obtain their birth certificates, support from health services for the children to catch up on missed vaccinations and to address health concerns, remedial education, and psycho-social support. In the meantime, better housing in a safer neighbourhood is sought for the family, so that the children can eventually be reunited with their parents.
At the Ministry of Social Development later that same day, officials explain to us how Ahmed’s case demonstrates the new approach the Ministry is taking to provide integrated social protection services. The old approach is focused on cash transfers provided to all who fall below the poverty line. But cash alone would not have done much at all in Ahmed’s complex situation. Therefore, this Ministry is now moving towards an integrated system, in which sound case management is the center piece and in which all service providers work together to provide a bespoke set of services to each individual case. UNICEF is supporting the Ministry in these efforts.
Ahmed and his family have lived through many years of acute poverty. His children have been deprived of many of their rights in early childhood.
 Names used are fictitious.
But it is not too late to restore dignity for this family and to give the children a second chance, through the integrated social protection system that Palestine is building for its people.
Arthur van Diesen is the Social Policy Advisor at the UNICEF Regional Office in the Middle East and North Africa Region. He was on a recent visit to the State of Palestine.