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March 28, 2022

Responding To: Innovating Protection for Children at Risk in the Americas

Keeping Children and Families in Guatemala Safe and Rooted

Changing the Way We Care

Many factors lead Central American children to make the treacherous journey to the north, including economic hardship and the desire to reunify with family in the United States. Violence in the home and community are also important push factors, however.  These factors must be considered as part of any comprehensive response addressing root causes of migration and drivers of family-child separation. The Changing the Way We Care (CTWWC) initiative has developed family strengthening approaches which address the root causes that result in the separation of children from families and often contribute to the subsequent unaccompanied migration of children. CTWWC uses this approach in its work in Guatemala, and other countries, to prevent initial family separation as well as to support families in the reunification process with the goal of preventing secondary separation.

Family strengthening addresses the combination of risks associated with poverty, trauma, community exclusion, and family violence. It aims to prevent family-child separation by creating various protective factors that help increase a family’s resilience and strengthen affective bonds and positive parenting practices within the family. These factors all contribute to community and family retention, helping children and young people who might otherwise be pushed or pulled to migrate experience greater rootedness.

CTWWC Guatemala is currently implementing this approach in the department of Zacapa and is in the process of designing a pilot in the high migration-sending communities in the Western Highlands.

Family strengthening begins with the identification of families with risk factors. A vulnerability assessment is conducted to identify both the risk factors to be addressed and the strengths or protective factors to build on. Changing the Way We Care has developed a case management approach specifically designed to prevent separation of children from their families as well as to support the reintegration of children who have been separated back into their families. The approach is designed to connect to existing social services and community groups that can provide a supportive environment around the child and family.

It is critical to train local social workers, as we are doing in Zacapa, to use these tools and approaches to better identify families at risk of separation and offer family strengthening services. We have seen that when local social workers are sufficiently trained and mentored in the use of case management tools, they are more effective at identifying cases of children who may be at risk of migration and/or families in urgent need of family strengthening services.

CTWWC also works closely with the Guatemalan government’s national Social Welfare Secretariat and the departmental government of Zacapa to secure government support and buy-in for these approaches and to help institutionalize them within government agencies.

Family reunification supports separated children and families to successfully reunite with family and community, which is particularly critical for child migrants who have been returned to their home countries and need to be safely reunified with their families and their communities. Depending on the factors behind the child's original intent to migrate, family strengthening and case management support can often help keep the family together and prevent a repeat migration attempt. Our family reunification approach involves:

  • Family tracing and assessment​;
  • Family group decision-making;
  • Case management designed for successful reunification;
  • Family strengthening activities (as above) to prevent secondary separation;
  • Youth programs for youth empowerment, life and job skills, community re-engagement
  • Addressing additional retention factors for children who may consider attempting the migrant journey again;
  • Training of government and non-governmental organizations in case management, referral mechanisms, and child protection services;
  • Training of government and non-governmental organizations in case follow-up to ensure a safe and nurturing reintegration.

Additionally, in cases of children who are unable to live with their families of origin, CTWWC promotes family-based alternative care, which provides temporary longer-term and permanent family care for children. These are children who, without access to safe and nurturing alternative family-based care, might be more disposed to migrate.

Family-based alternative care involves:

  • Strengthening and expanding models of temporary foster care, together with government agencies and private service providers;
  • Support for extended family caregivers;
  • Case management processes for alternative care;
  • Family strengthening (as above) for extended family caregivers.

CTWWC believes that children thrive in families that are safe and nurturing. We also believe that most families want to provide the best environment for their children but often don’t have the skills or support to do so. Our family strengthening approach is a strengths-based approach aimed at not only addressing the root causes that make families vulnerable to separation but increasing their resilience to cope with challenges that arise. By providing case management and home visitation—linking families to existing services, economic support and building positive parenting skills and practices—families can decrease their risk of separating. This approach can be easily adapted to serve families contemplating or experiencing child migration. When families receive the holistic services and support that address the root causes driving separation and strengthen community connectedness, children and families are more likely to remain together.

Changing The Way We Care℠ (CTWWC) is implemented by Catholic Relief Services and Maestral International, along with other global, national, and local partners working together to change the way we care for children around the world. Our principal global partners are the Better Care Network, Lumos Foundation, and Faith to Action. CTWWC is funded in part by a Global Development Alliance of USAID, the MacArthur Foundation, and the GHR Foundation.

Other Responses

Juan Pacay
Wuqub' Tz'ikin

Juan Edwin Pacay Mendoza, Coordinator of the Kajib’ Ix Program, Vida Digna Collective Association; Maya Tz’utujil, Family-Community Organizer | March 28, 2022