New Guidelines for Reintegration of Children into Families

A coalition of leading aid and development agencies this week is rolling out first-of-their-kind “Guidelines on Children’s Reintegration.” These guidelines are designed to provide practitioners, governments, NGOs and other key actors in child welfare with both principles and practical guidance for effective reintegration of children separated from their families for a wide range of reasons, from civil war and natural disaster to poverty.

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 4.12.21 PMThe guidelines also call for increased attention to the issue of reintegration, arguing that:

  • Separated children are an increasingly urgent priority as all regions of the world grapple with unprecedented levels of conflict, disasters, mass migration, poverty and violence.
  • Reintegrating separated children back into their own families and communities is most often the best way to prevent and remedy the many challenges they face.
  • Reintegration is a sustained and complex process that must be handled carefully in order to be effective.

The CAFO “Core Principles” state,When families have been separated, reunification is of first priority whenever safely possible.”

Of course, this principle is often far easier to say than work out in a tangled world. It is simple and clear in the abstract, but often far more complex and murky as one struggles to bring broken families together.  Just as with other expressions of care for vulnerable children – from adoption to foster care to family preservation efforts – the idea of reintegration tends to get more complicated the deeper we get. Individuals involved with such efforts from Central America to Africa to Asia have shared with me heart-rending stories of the tragic consequences for children when they are returned to families unready or unwilling to receive them.

But, just as with other means of caring for children and families, the complexity and often-alloyed results of reintegration are no excuse to walk away. Rather, those who feel called to focus on reintegrating families must know they are engaging a work of utmost importance. It is the first and best way to care for any child that can be safely reunited with parents and relatives.

Given this importance, as well as its complexity, any who undertake the great calling of reintegration must do so with an eagerness to draw from the best available knowledge, studies and models. These new “Guidelines” should provide invaluable help in doing just that.