Children in the most dire straits are those outside of family care – those living on the streets or in institutions, trafficked, participating in armed groups, or exploited for their labor. Children in such circumstances often experience abuse, neglect, lack of stimulation, and extreme and toxic stress – all of which have a profoundly negative impact on a child’s development and adult outcomes.
Recognizing that all governments need evidence to inform efficacious, effective, and sustainable policies, strategies, and programs to care for vulnerable children, the U.S. Government convened an Evidence Summit on Protecting Children Outside of Family Care on December 12-13, 2011 in Washington, D.C. The overarching goal of the Summit was to provide expert review of the evidence on effective systems to identify, assess, assist, and monitor children outside of family care in lower- and middle-income countries, including those living on the streets or in institutions, trafficked, separated as a result of conflict or disaster, or exploited for their labor. The Summit brought together 150 leading researchers as well as technical experts to assess the evidence to inform policies, strategies and programs relevant to protecting children outside of family care in lower- and middle-income countries and identify evidence gaps to shape the future research agenda.
“Following the Summit, we have committed to establishing guiding principles for US Government assistance to affected children outside the USA and to develop a strategy, by July, 2012, to promote evidence-based responses to protect these vulnerable children. The strategy will promote application of the principles, implementation of evidence-based best practices, and research to address critical knowledge gaps in initiatives for at risk children outside of family care funded by the US Government. With continued global collaboration and coordination across agencies and partners, we can tackle more effectively the common constraints to improving children’s wellbeing and protecting the most vulnerable.”
Another key result was the consolidation and evaluation of the evidence base – the collection of the most relevant knowledge and experience related to children outside of family care – which will inform the development of guiding principles and an interagency strategy. The evidence review will be summarized in a series of academic papers and submitted for journal publication in 2012. The process of identifying, evaluating, and synthesizing this evidence base was formally launched at a Pre-Summit held October 24-25, 2011 at the National Institutes of Health. At the Pre-Summit, 60 academics, technical experts and U.S. government officials discussed the strength of evidence relevant to children outside of family care and began to identify research gaps. Four multidisciplinary teams were established to review the evidence around four focal questions and prepare draft findings for the December Summit. The four focal questions are:
Focal Question 1: What systems/strategies are most effective in identifying and enumerating children outside of family care?
Focal Question 2: What are the most effective systems/strategies/interventions to assess and address the immediate needs of children outside of family care?
Focal Question 3: What systems/strategies/interventions are effective for sustainable long-term care and protection of children with a history of living outside of family care?
Focal Question 4: What models, systems and strategies demonstrate efficacy, effectiveness, and/or sustainability for monitoring children who are or were outside of family care and/or for evaluating the impact of the programs and systems intended to serve them?