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Innovating Protection for Children on the Move across the Americas

"How did we manage to get here? We improvised. The safety we found—we created it ourselves." This is how a 16-year-old boy from Honduras summarized his journey across northern Central America and into the United States. "Now that I am here, I am still improvising.”

Hundreds of thousands of children are leaving their homes, either with family members or on their own, experiencing internal displacement and attempting to cross borders throughout the Americas. Children and families continue to travel between South and Central America, Mexico, and the United States in record numbers. In addition to those fleeing northern Central America—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras account for some of the highest rates of murder and gender-based violence in the world—vulnerable populations throughout the region also bear the brunt of climate-induced disasters, food insecurity, extreme poverty, violence, and crime. Many have experienced abuse, exploitation, detention, deprivation, and discrimination along their migration journeys.

International law underscores that all children have a right to safety and to access protection, seek asylum, and remain and reunite with family members. National, state, and local governments have the responsibility to protect children and families on the move, regardless of where they are from or where they are going. However, child welfare and protection systems—already fragile prior to the COVID-19 pandemic—have been overwhelmed and unable to respond to the scale of need. Civil society and community-based responses are key to building and sustaining protective factors for children and families in countries of origin, along the migratory route, in receiving communities across the United States, and upon return, but these are also underfunded and over capacity.

In her November 4 remarks at Georgetown University commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Administrator Samantha Power announced a five-year, $300 million initiative, Centroamérica Local, to empower local organizations in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to address the drivers of irregular migration to the United States and advance the Biden-Harris administration’s Root Causes Strategy. In her address, Administrator Power urged us to amplify the local voices of those who too often have been left out of the conversation:

Local voices need to be at the center of everything we do… We‘ve got to tap into the knowledge of local communities, and their lived-experiences. Otherwise, we risk reinforcing the systemic inequities that are already in place.

Efforts to respond appropriately to migrant and asylum-seeking children and families require innovative thinking and collaborative action. Young people who have lived the migration experience and those who have helped them navigate risk and find protection along the way must inform and guide the response. Those closest to the challenges are also closest to the solutions, yet these perspectives are rarely prioritized. Immigration policy garners a great deal of attention and engenders much debate, much of which is rarely child-centered. However, as noted in a recent UNICEF report on unaccompanied migrant and asylum-seeking children in the United States, creating opportunities for young people to share their views and experiences is not only good policy—it is grounded in the science of resilience.

In 2022, Georgetown University’s recently launched Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues and the Institute for the Study of International Migration will co-convene a series, Innovating Protection for Children on the Move across the Americas, to bring a child-focused and solutions-oriented lens to the dynamic landscape of immigration between countries of origin and return, the U.S.-Mexico border, and within receiving communities across the United States. The conversation will include young people who have experienced migration across the Americas—reinforcing our collective responsibility to be accountable to the children we study and serve.

The purpose of the series is to identify protective factors and responses that can be enhanced through child-sensitive policies, strategic investments, and collaborative partnerships across borders as well as here in the United States. Shifting from a focus on risks and deficits towards strengths-based solutions engages young people, families, communities, and other stakeholders to identify what works, helping actors build capacity and approaches that are likely to enhance cross-system collaboration to support children and families and promote their resilience and well-being.

Innovating Protection for Children on the Move across the Americas is a joint effort between partners who have committed to working together to ensure that the series is inclusive of a variety of perspectives, including young people, programmatic actors, policymakers, researchers, and other stakeholders. Our collaborative design team includes Georgetown’s Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues and Institute for the Study of International Migration, UNICEF, Global Fund for Children and its network of local civil society organizations on both sides of the border, and two youth-serving organizations in the DC metro area, Identity and Imagination Stage/¡Óyeme! 

We invite you to join us. For more information, please contact

—Gillian Huebner, Executive Director, Collaborative on Global Children's Issues