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The Collaborative Forum

April 8, 2024

Innovations to Support Early Childhood Development and Protection for Young Displaced Children in Guatemala Blog Post

by Mara Tissera Luna, Program Manager, Collaborative on Global Children's Issues

The Breakthrough Series Collaborative on Promoting Early Childhood Development for Young Children on the Move in Northern Central America is an effort to learn from local leaders who have been innovating community-based responses to address the early childhood development (ECD) and protection needs of children aged 0 to 6 on the move and in displacement settings in northern Central America.

Context and Challenges

The Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues at Georgetown University brings together practitioners, policymakers, researchers, and other stakeholders to reflect on and find solutions to pressing questions related to global children's issues, including child protection and early childhood development for children on the move in the Americas.

The Collaborative on Global Children's Issues is:

  • committed to creating opportunities that are child-centered;

  • grounded in the lived experiences of children, their families, and communities;

  • responsive to current and emerging needs and useful to actors working in a variety of contexts and capacities to meet them;

  • evidence-informed and solutions-oriented; and

  • building effective bridges between stakeholders involved in practice, policy, and research.

In Guatemala, children and their caregivers face severe impacts from entrenched socioeconomic and political injustice, with intertwined and emerging consequences. Due to its location in the Dry Corridor of Central America, the country faces the impacts of climate change, including food insecurity, particularly in its western regions. Guatemala is also prone to tropical storms, droughts, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Additionally, the country has long grappled with violent land conflict (albeit recent progress), worsening levels of social conflict, structural racism, and state capture by political, military, and economic elites, which have long maintained their privileges at the expense of Guatemala’s Indigenous peoples. Violence, organized crime, the lack of educational and livelihood opportunities, and family reunification drive migration from mainly the western, predominantly Indigenous regions of the country to the United States. 

Despite affecting hundreds of thousands of children, the internal displacement of Guatemalans, the disruption of family structures and community identity due to mass migration, and the reintegration challenges facing returnees have received less international attention compared to situations affecting people in transit or Guatemalans arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. Developing child-sensitive, protection-focused, human rights-based, humane, regional migration policies is critical to protecting people within large-scale displacement across Latin America and the Caribbean. Likewise, the U.S. Strategy for Addressing the Root Causes of Migration in Central America marked substantial progress in U.S. cooperation towards the Northern Triangle because its integral approach focuses on the complex structural causes behind migration and emphasizes job creation, economic investment, rule of law, and human rights. For instance, in 2022 in Honduras and Guatemala, USAID’s interventions to combat malnutrition and improve child survival reached about 175,000 children under 5, while 30,000 gender-based violence survivors received services through USAID programs. However, while addressing the needs of individuals and families moving within the Northern Triangle of Central America — which saw a 200% rise increase in 2023 — and those of Guatemala attempting to migrate to the United States, it is essential to prioritize the protection of and support for Guatemalan internally displaced and returnee children and their caregivers. 

Focus Areas

Our goal is to learn from community-based organizations that support and advocate for the rights of displaced and returned Guatemalan children aged 0 to 6 years and their caregivers. These organizations, present in the City of Guatemala and its outskirts, Quetzaltenango (Xela) and Huehuetenango, offer integrated services and advocate for the rights of young children and their families, including those displaced due to gender-based violence, at risk of being displaced, or who face challenges to reintegrate after being returned from the United States or Mexico.

Preliminary Insights and Findings

Thirty-one in-person and 11 online interviews with selected international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), donors, community-based organizations, and government agencies helped us learn what works to support early childhood development (ECD) and violence prevention for displaced Guatemalan families with young children aged 0 to 6.

From the baseline assessment and country visit, several key insights emerged:

  • Approaches to Early Childhood Development: All the programs visited strive to employ a “whole family” or “two-generation” approach. They integrate early childhood development and violence prevention with livelihoods, local development, psycho-social support, or poverty alleviation programs for their caregivers, often women and adolescent-headed households. This is particularly significant in Guatemala as nearly 70,000 children aged 10 to 17 were married or in unions, and over 62,000 girls and women aged 10 to 19 registered births in 2023. 

  • Early Childhood Development as a relatively nascent policy issue: Early childhood development has recently become a significant policy issue in Guatemala. The first government's 10-year Integrated Early Childhood Development cross-sector national plan was approved in 2010.

  • Opportunities ahead: There is a current window of opportunity with the impending approval of a new 20-year early childhood development plan. The newly elected Partido Semilla administration is keen to advance social policy areas related to early childhood. Additionally, the country recently approved its first-ever migration policy. This policy establishes the child’s best interest, the differentiated age, gender, and diversity approach (i.e., considering the unique needs of marginalized migrant groups, including those with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, girls, and the LGBTQI+ community), and preserving family unity or reunification as its cross-cutting, overarching principles. It also identifies girls, boys, and adolescents—especially those who are unaccompanied or separated—family units on the move with children, and pregnant and lactating women as priority groups in policy and support services. Additionally, it assigns specific objectives and government entities responsible for ensuring their rights.

  • Operational environment: The community-based organizations interviewed are overstretched, understaffed, and underfunded. They require direct and flexible funding, technical cooperation and/or capacity-building for institutional development, and connections with donors in the Global North. Some community-based organizations need funding to systematize and publish their proven methodologies, including versions in Indigenous languages.

  • Advocating for localization of funding: There is a need to increase direct funding to community-based and grassroots organizations via long-term, flexible grants to guarantee the continuity and sustainability of programs. Announced by USAID Administrator Samantha Power in November 2021 at Georgetown University, the Centroamérica Local initiative could represent a major leap toward supporting local organizations. This five-year initiative is backed by a $300 million budget and seeks to directly support local organizations addressing the causes of irregular migration to the United States, prioritizing those led by indigenous groups and women. In Guatemala, this approach has directly engaged eight Guatemalan national partners, including the children’s rights national non-governmental organization El Refugio de la Niñez, which implements actions for the reception, reunification, and reintegration of returned children and their families. For its part, USAID/IOM’s Addressing the Root Causes of Irregular Migration Project, partly targeting indigenous women and girls, awarded 47 sub-grants to address migration drivers in 15 Guatemalan departments.

Looking Forward

Based on the findings from the needs assessment, in the upcoming months, we will organize two online forums involving community-based organizations, Guatemalan government representatives, USAID, foundations, and other donors. These aim to 1) foster an environment of open dialogue, knowledge-sharing, and learning on what works to protect young children on the move; and 2) identify effective strategies to support early childhood development and the protection of young children on the move that prioritize grassroots and community organizations.


We extend our heartfelt thanks to the national non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, grassroots, international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and government entities that generously shared their time and insights: 

  • Asociación Dejando Una Sonrisa (ADUS)

  • Asociación Futuro Vivo

  • Asociación Puerta de Esperanza (part of Proyecto Prevenir)

  • Casa del Migrante (Red de Casas del Migrante Scalabrini)

  • Catholic Relief Services Quetzaltenango

  • ChildFund Quetzaltenango

  • ChildFund Regional Office

  • Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI)

  • Church World Service (CWS)

  • Coordinadora Institucional de Promoción por los Derechos de la Niñez (CIPRODENI) 

  • Coincidir – Por y con la niñéz, adolescencia y juventud

  • Colectivo Vida Digna

  • El Refugio de la Niñez

  • Escuela de la Calle

  • Fundación Sobrevivientes

  • Global Fund for Children

  • HIAS in Guatemala

  • International Rescue Committee (IRC)

  • Jóvenes por el Cambio (JXC)

  • KIND (Kids in Need of Defense)

  • Migration program and Early Childhood Program of Pastoral de Movilidad Humana de la Conferencia Episcopal de Guatemala (PMH CEG)

  • Monseñor Alvaro Ramazzini (Pastoral PMH CEG Huehuetenango)

  • Nuevos Horizontes

  • Programa de Atención, Movilización e Incidencia por la Niñez y Adolescencia (PAMI)

  • Pop No'j in Guatemala City and Colotenango

  • Proyecto de Desarrollo Santiago (PRODESSA)

  • Red Jesuita con Migrantes de Guatemala

  • Search for Common Ground

  • The Guatemalan Institute of Migration

  • The Migrant Support Center of the Municipality of Malacatancito (Huehuetenango)

  • The Ministry of Health and Social Policy

  • The Secretary of Social Welfare of the Presidency (SBS)

  • Tierra Nueva

  • UNHCR/Tierra Nueva/IRC/Refugio de la Niñez's Migrants and Refugees Assistance Center (CAPMiR) in Huehuetenango

  • UNICEF Guatemala CO and UNICEF HQ

This collaborative project is funded by the Bainum Family Foundation's Global Education Fund (GEF), which seeks to increase equity in access to quality early care and education for young children worldwide by supporting and learning from local community-led projects serving children and families. The goal is to share knowledge and innovation through co-creation.

Mara Tissera Luna is a program manager at the Georgetown University Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues, where she leads the Breakthrough Series Collaborative on Promoting Early Childhood Development for Young Children on the Move in Northern Central America.

February 26, 2024

Faith that Supports Families Blog Post

There is global agreement (illustrated by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child [1989], the most widely adopted human rights treaty) that optimal support for a child comes from a caring and protective family. In addition, Catholic social teaching (outlined in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church) seeks the whole development of the child within a family setting, affirming God’s plan for family to be a child’s most important source of love, emotional support, and spiritual guidance. Yet, when vulnerable parents and families do not have the resources to meet their basic needs or are otherwise unable to access fundamental protections, the risk of child-family separation increases.

The phenomenon of preventable child-family separation is as old as time. Societal approaches to children at risk of losing parental care are largely informed by cultural beliefs and habits. Faith-based perspectives and responses are—and have always been—an important part of this equation. Christian faith communities have responded to child-family separation in various ways throughout history, contributing to both the propagation and prevention of child-family separation across time and contexts. The Faith and the Family Forum has considered this history in a series of webinars focusing on the theology of the child, children’s care and protection, and the Church’s role in child-family separation through the development and use of residential care worldwide, during American slavery, in Indigenous communities, and in migration policy and response.

For this topic, the Collaborative on Global Children's Issues asks: How is the Catholic Church learning from this history, supporting vulnerable children, families, and communities, and helping to prevent unnecessary child-family separation?