USA Group 7 – Separated Children, Verification

When, where and how should verification be carried out?
During the process of registration, a separated child should be interviewed by a local staff member trained in interviewing children or by the staff member responsible for caring for the program’s children. During this interview, basic information, such as the name and age of the child, the names of the child’s parents, the name of the child's home village, as well as the child’s history in terms of how the child became separated and where the child believes his/her family could be currently located will be documented. In addition to the interview, birthmarks, scares or other distinctive attributes should be recorded and photos should be taken of the child. All this information will serve to identify the child and will be essential in the verification process. That is, when a family member submits a claim for a child or when a parent/relative is believed to have been found, the adult will undergo an interview in which he/she should be able to match the answers given by the child as well as identify unique characteristics of the child. This verification interview will therefore be based on the child’s basic information, history and the presence of any distinctive characteristics. Furthermore, the clothing and any other personal items that the child was wearing when identified, which should have been catalogued during the registration process, can be used as a means of additional verification. The photos taken can also be used as verification by asking the adult to pick his/her child’s photo out of a numbers of photos shown. It is also valuable to ask the parent about how and where the separation occurred to verify additional information. In addition to the interview, verification should also be done by trying to identify the adult by asking the people in the community or local authorities. All this will serve to verify the true identity of the adult(s). It is however also important to verify the willingness of the adult to accept and care for the child as a family member.
The documentation process as well as the verification process should take place a soon as possible. In other words, the verification process should begin as soon as an adult is making a claim or as soon as the parents or relatives are thought to be found. The interview with the child (during the documentation process) should take place in a quiet and calm location if possible in order to ensure that the child feels comfortable. If necessary and possible, the child should be accompanied by someone who knows him/her. The interviewer should try to achieve familiarity through using local words, knowledge of culture and by creating a friendly environment. During the verification process, it is sometimes necessary to engage both the child and the adult in order to verify the relationship, by for example singing a favorite “family song”. It is therefore important to also conduct the verification process in an environment in which the child feels comfortable.

What are some of the issues that may arise from verification, which will require further action?
1. If the child shows ambivalence or concern about the claiming adult, further investigation should be carried out. This is a heightened concern when a significant amount of time has passed or the claiming adult is unable to care for the child. If a decision is made after such investigation to reunite the child with the adult, home visits might be necessary in order to further verify the willingness and ability of the adult(s) to provide for the child. If the willingness to care for the child is present but the ability is questionable, it might be necessary to provide assistance in order to prevent repeated separation.
2. Attempts to facilitate bonding between the adult and the child should be a priority during the verification process, but only when the connection has been validated. This is especially important when the period of separation has been long. In such situation it might be necessary to take action in terms of providing counseling and support the family in the reintegration process.
3. False verification is a concern especially for young infants. For that reason photos should be taken immediately when the child enters the program. Although not all incorrect verifications are intentional, one should mitigate false expectations by utilizing multiple forms of verification (interviews, identification of unique features, legal documentation).
4. An exit interview should be conducted with the child to note any concerns the child might have regarding the financial stability of the family, the environment in which the family lives and relationships with family members. Home visits might again be necessary to monitor the situation.