Emergency situations can weaken national and local child protection systems, expose the need for strengthening these systems, or can temporarily overburden better-functioning systems. Programmes which seek to support and strengthen the local and national capacity to respond to the protection needs of children can be effective in building long-term capacity to respond and helping to prevent some of the protection issues from arising.
To read about an example of strengthening child protection systems, click the picture below:
When should we use a programme to strengthen child protection systems?
- When government child protection systems have been weakened by the emergency and/or temporarily do not have capacity to respond to protection needs, or when government child protection systems are not well developed
- When cases of abuse and exploitation are not followed up properly and local government and social services need additional capacity or support
- Only when you have capacity to support and resource a longer-term response, usually in the stages after the immediate onset of the emergency
- Only where you or your local partner have strong experience in delivering child protection programmes
How to strengthen child protection systems
Quality assessment of what exists in communities to protect children following an emergency
In order to strengthen systems in an emergency it is important for external agencies to assess and map the more and less formal, statutory and non-statutory mechanisms and structures that exist at community level. Ideally, this should include an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of mechanisms and the links between community mechanisms and other components, including children’s perspectives. Where such an assessment is not undertaken, the child protection response may be inappropriate for the context and, as a result, can undermine and breakdown existing mechanisms and systems rather than strengthen them.
Build on what already exists
Building on existing government plans and strategies and including government child protection officials in the design of emergency programmes seems to create stronger systems and reduces the risk of parallel systems that can be created when government or an external agency are not aware of, or do not buy into, agency-supported community mechanisms. In the same way, systems are strengthened when they build on what already exists, for example, any existing referral pathways between components in the system.
Strengthen and support community-based child protection mechanisms (CBCPMs)
CBCPMs allow for immediate action at grassroots level following an emergency. Mobilisation of and support for a network of community mechanisms also have potential for significant coverage at scale and may promote long-term sustainability of child protection action beyond emergency recovery. For more information on developing community-based child protection, see community-based child protection
Community-based child protection mechanisms can be connected to components of the national child protection system in several ways, including through:
- referring individual cases from the community to other parts of the system
- information sharing between the community and other parts of the system
- capacity building and/or the provision of financial or human resource support
- supervision and monitoring
- sharing of learning and best practice
CBCPMs are much better able to engage with and strengthen the national child protection system when they are supported and have received appropriate training to enable them to be active and responsive to the situations of children in their communities.
Engage all stakeholders as early as possible
Include all stakeholders (e.g. children, families, communities, civil society and government) from the outset, if possible. For example, work with and through government to establish CBCPMs, or ensure that children are engaged appropriately in CBCPM development. If the engagement of stakeholders is not achieved at the outset (or only thought of at the point of exit strategy), evidence shows that this may cause conflict, lead to mechanisms collapsing once external support is taken away, or create parallel systems and processes that undermine a coordinated national system.
Use other programmes as entry points
Some emergency interventions have proven to be ‘good entry points’ for building or strengthening child protection systems. One example is family tracing and reunification programmes, as these tend to have a lot of support from governments, community members and donors, and require information management and referral systems to be successful. Another example may be child friendly spaces, particularly if these are the locus for other interventions addressing a range of child protection needs. You could therefore develop these programmes to also include a system-strengthening element.
Supporting case management and strengthening referral systems
Case management is the process of helping individual children and families through direct social-work-type support and managing information well. Case management systems are especially important in facilitating case monitoring and referral to services.
- Build on existing processes and links, develop procedures with other sectors by defining criteria and processes for registration, referral and follow-up
- Train and equip caseworkers to ensure that responses are child-appropriate, and provided in a transparent way, with age-appropriate information, suitable for the cultural context, provided to each child about their case
See the Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (Standard 18: Case management) for detailed guidance on developing and delivering case management.
Temporarily providing additional resources and support
One way to temporarily increase capacity is by seconding a child protection expert to the relevant government structure in order to build capacity and influence decisions on a daily basis. A child protection expert can also give time to working alongside communities on child protection for a period of time.
Tools and resources
Information on this page is taken from:
- Save the Children, Strengthening Child Protection Systems in Emergencies through Community-Based Mechanisms (2010)
- Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Emergencies(Standard 18: Case management)
Also see: The Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, Adapting to learn, learning to adapt: Overview of and considerations for child protection systems strengthening in emergencies
- UNICEF, Child Protection Systems Strengthening (2021)
- UNHCR, A Framework for the Protection of Children (2012)
- Terre des Hommes, Enhancing child protection systems (2011)