Case-Study 2: Separated Children - Tracing

Steps to trace Jean-Claude’s family
Among the very first steps when encountering Jean-Claude, we would want to ensure that his immediate health needs were taken care of – addressing any injuries and health concerns, and making sure he had food, water and proper clothing. Then, in order to try to find his family, a caseworker would accompany him on a walk around the camp to look for Emile and try to recognize anyone. This would allow Jean-Claude to identify any familiar people, including family, neighbors, community members, teachers, etc. If neighbors of family friends were present, we would ask them if they knew anything abut his family’s whereabouts and/or what happened to them; we would also ask where he and his family lived, as well as the names, ages and physical descriptions of all family members. Additionally, we would inquire whether Jean-Claude had any extended family members living nearby, or in other unaffected areas of the country.

Following these discussions, we would interview Jean-Claude, asking him the same questions as above. This would allow us to compare and verify information provided by Jean-Claude with information given by other people. If there were discrepancies, we could investigate further to clarify. We would also ask Jean-Claude to retrace his steps (to the best of his ability) back to where he came from. If technology allowed, we might try to use a cellphone to call his family. Once we spoke with Jean-Claude, we would interview other adults (and perhaps older children) who arrived at the camp at the time. We would ask for information about what happened along the way, where they came from, and whether they had any information about Emile, etc.

We would take a picture of Jean-Claude and enter it into a central database. We would also perform a brief physical examination, looking for birthmarks or other identifying characters, and include this with the photo. (Note that this step requires some pre-disaster preparation and coordination to ensure that all camps are using the same electronic system).

Factors that may hinder tracing process
Given the emergency context of the situation, there are many potential hindering factors to Jean-Claude successfully tracing his family. Ongoing fighting and insecurity outside of camp boundaries significantly limit the ability to search for those who may not have landed in the same camp. As Jean-Claude and Emile experienced at the river, gatekeepers may impede movement. This could be an indication of corruption, or potential for sexual exploitation. Additionally, conditions from the rainy season may make travel difficult and dangerous, and challenging in retracing steps back to Jean-Claude’s village. His young age of 8 years may limit how much information he can provide; for example, he may not know his parent’s names or ages. Or, they may have common names that are shared by many people in the community. Further, shock and trauma may affect how much he remembers, or is able to communicate verbally.

Depending on the extent of preparedness plans prior to the conflict and/or organization within the camp, communication infrastructure and technology may not be reliable. Further, regional registration systems, which may account for birth certificates or household address and resident registration may be weak.

Prioritizing Activities
The first activity is to address Jean-Claude’s immediate physical health needs. This is followed by walking through the camp and looking for people he recognizes; if he does know someone, we will facilitate discussion between them to verify information. Then, we will interview Jean-Claude, take his picture and look for identifying marks, and enter him into a registry. The emphasis here would be coordination with other camps. Once we have gathered information from Jean-Claude, we would ensure that there was a safe space for him (and other separated children) to sleep (in theory, Jean-Claude still has his blanket, mat and plate). This space would be centrally located, guarded, with access to things such as water and sanitation. Throughout the process, we would maintain Jean-Claude’s security and protection and build trust with him; it is essential to uphold ethical standards of relief workers.