‘We Cannot Collect Comprehensive Information on All of These Changes’: The Challenges of Monitoring and Evaluating Reintegration Efforts for Separated Children
‘We Cannot Collect Comprehensive Information on All of These Changes’: The Challenges of Monitoring and Evaluating Reintegration Efforts for Separated Children
Abstract and Keywords
Chapter 9 discusses the difficulties of monitoring and evaluating support programmes for young survivors of exploitation and trafficking. It draws on the findings of a survey of professionals involved in support programmes in 21 countries, and a consultation process involving 89 young survivors of exploitation and trafficking living in seven countries. The survey findings provide guidance on measurement and assessment of ‘successful’ reintegration. The chapter concludes by making a number of recommendations to improve monitoring and evaluation in this area. These include developing common, yet contextualised tools across the sector and using sensitive and appropriate participatory techniques with survivors to understand what ‘successful reintegration’ looks like in their eyes.
Every year across the world many children become separated from their families. Some children may run away or leave home in search of a better life. Some may be abandoned or placed in alternative forms of care. Others will be separated by disasters or war. And some will be taken away from their families by others. Suffering from a lack of care and attention, and more likely to be exposed to risky behaviours and activities, the circumstances of separation are widely acknowledged to leave these children more vulnerable (Williamson and Greenberg 2010; Maholmes et al. 2012). The perceived vulnerability of these children has made them a preferred ‘target group’ for many child protection agencies around the world. Organisations have focused their work towards various sub-groups of separated children, including children associated with the fighting forces–and specifically former child soldiers; street-connected children; child labourers; children in institutions; unaccompanied asylum-seeking children; and child migrants. Some of these children may be at more risk of being exploited and trafficked, and ‘trafficked children’ themselves have become a distinct sub-group for organisations supporting separated children.
The reintegration of separated children has attracted greater attention and resources from international organisations and child protection agencies in recent years. Despite the amplified focus on this area of work, rigorous evaluations of these endeavours are rare and it is not always clear what lessons are being learned (Jordans et al. 2012). Previous evaluations have had a tendency to focus explicitly on the (p.137) programme objectives, and whether or not they were achieved. There has, however, been little insight into whether the activities benefitted the child, or how and why the initiative in question made a positive impact. So we may learn whether a programme achieved what it set out to do (reunify x number of children with their families, for example), but we gain no insight into how reintegration was supported, or what worked (or did not work), and how these factors affected the overall well-being of the child and family.
This chapter considers why the monitoring and evaluation of reintegration activities is so challenging; and why listening to children’s and young people’s views on, and experiences of, reintegration following separation and exploitation is so critical. The chapter provides background to the work undertaken with separated children and the development of reintegration efforts. It outlines the difficulties in monitoring and evaluating reintegration programmes and determining what ‘success’ looks like. And it describes a project that attempts to improve monitoring and evaluation in this area of work. The results of a consultation process with children and young people are also shared. Finally, it discusses some conclusions and future directions that may help to develop our understanding of reintegration work–with trafficked children in particular.
Background: supporting separated children
Identifying and calculating the number of children outside of family care is not easy (Pullum et al. 2012; Stark et al. 2014). It can be very difficult to gather an accurate picture for those who are growing up outside the confines of a family. Children may not be registered at birth, may not be ‘counted’ in household surveys, or may be ‘hidden away’ in institutions, places of work or battlefields. In addition, the mobile nature of some children and young people–particularly migrant and street-connected children–can make it difficult to quantify the magnitude of the issue globally. This lack of reliable information can make it challenging for governments to plan comprehensive responses and deliver well-resourced reintegration efforts.
The knowledge base surrounding the reintegration experiences of separated children has developed unevenly. Beginning in the 1990s, the international community started to document experiences and learning from the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DRR) programmes that targeted ex-combatants, including former child soldiers. A strong body of knowledge surrounding the reintegration experiences for this group of young people developed and continues to deepen, expand and evolve (Akello et al. (p.138) 2006; Boothby et al. 2006; Burman and McKay 2007; Kohrt 2007; Cortes and Buchanan 2007; Williamson 2006; Betancourt et al. 2008; Betancourt et al. 2010; McKay et al. 2010; Jordans et al. 2012).
As funding priorities have shifted towards other sub-groups of children (such as trafficked children) in the early twenty-first century, questions regarding how best to support their recovery and reintegration have again emerged (Asquith and Turner 2008). Trafficked children, due to their exploitation, may have distinct and complex physical and psychological recovery needs. However, the process of reintegrating trafficked children back into families and communities may be similar to work with other groups of children.
Unfortunately, the focus on specific groups of children has to some degree led to knowledge blockages between organisations supporting the reintegration process. The labelling and categorising of ‘children in need’ into groups is endemic within the development sector (Moncrieffe 2006: 38). The consequence of this tunnel vision is that discrete pockets of knowledge develop in isolation. Such distinctions also tend to be disingenuous in many cases, as children do not always fit neatly into the labelled boxes professionals create. A child identified and categorised as a street-connected child may in fact have started his or her journey as a migrant or may be running from domestic violence and abuse and may, due to his or her circumstances, be involved in exploitative work and/or ‘transactional sex’. This has been echoed by Boothby et al. who note that:
interventions targeting vulnerable children, many of whom are outside of family care for various reasons, are often similar, yet programs tend to focus on addressing the needs of children according to their category of vulnerability rather than building sustainable child protection systems that effectively address the needs of all vulnerable children. (2012: 745)
Reunification and reintegration
Traditionally many separated children who were identified by welfare services may have been cared for in institutions, centres and orphanages. Today, with the acknowledgement that the best place for a child to grow up is within a nurturing family environment, the ultimate goal for most welfare agencies is to reunify separated children with their families, or, if this is not possible, place children into alternative family-based environments. In either scenario, supporting their reintegration back into the wider community is an equally important endeavour.
International legislation clearly states that growing up in a family (p.139) environment is the best place for a child (United Nations 1989, preamble):
the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community.
It is in the child’s best interests to be reunified with family members when possible and safe to do so. In cases where the child has no family, is unwilling to be reunited with family, or where the family is not deemed safe or able to care for the child, the child may be integrated into extended family or into a new family or community.
States have ultimate responsibility for ensuring that children are reintegrated and cared for. Article 39 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child notes that:
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of: any form of neglect, exploitation, or abuse; torture or any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or armed conflicts. Such recovery and reintegration shall take place in an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child.
However, in many contexts reintegration work is ‘subcontracted out’ to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other agencies that directly assist children and young people. This particularly appears to be the case for victims of trafficking. When this happens there may be specific rules, time limits and exclusion policies that restrict what support can be offered. Similarly, in contexts where government agencies do not have the resources to contract out this work, NGOs and international agencies may acquire funding from donors to support reintegration efforts. Again, time-limited programmes and projects mean that in reality it is often local community-based organisations who are involved in longer-term reintegration efforts (Wedge 2013).
Where children do have a family that is able to care for the child, it is often not as easy as simply reuniting children with family members. A greater duration and level of assistance may be required for children who have been separated for a length of time, or who have become separated due to difficulties within the home (such as the death of a parent, abuse, violence or conflict), or whose time away has been marred by sexual abuse, exploitation, addiction or (p.140) violence. This enhanced assistance may include help to access basic services such as health and education; support to gain new skills, knowledge and behaviours; legal assistance; psychosocial support; and family mediation and economic strengthening of the household. Such activities often fall under the umbrella term that is described and framed here as ‘reintegration work’. Of course, not all children are assisted in their reintegration and it is thought that many children return and reintegrate without the support of organisations.
The term reintegration can be defined as:
The process that involves the reunification of children and young people with family members (or into an alternative permanent family-based setting) and results in a healthy, happy child who is safe, accepted, respected and has the same opportunities as other children in their community.
(Cody 2013a: 9)
Reintegration is not a one-off occurrence, but involves a process of adjustment. Reimer et al. (2007) have described reintegration as a three-stage process involving a phase of pre-reintegration, reintegration and post-reintegration. These periods of time cover the initial steps taken in the run-up to either reunification with the family or integration (such as family tracing and assessments) and continue right up to follow-up visits once the child has left the care of a service provider. Others have also emphasised that reintegration should not be seen as a ‘programme’, as it requires the involvement of multiple stakeholders and bodies. It is not simply a stand-alone initiative delivered by one organisation (Anthony et al. 2010).
Common themes in reintegration work
The research that does exist around reintegration, which is briefly explored below, indicates that different ‘groups’ of children (for instance, trafficked children, street-connected children and former child soldiers) often share a number of similar experiences and challenges when it comes to being reunited with families and reintegrated into communities.
Children who return after a period of separation do not just return to the family unit, they return to a community. Shigekane (2007: 132) notes that ‘a community’s response to trafficking is as important to a survivor’s successful integration as is the availability of meaningful services and support’. How the family and community view, respond and support the child will affect how easily the child is able to adjust. When young people who have been separated (p.141) return home, family and community members may know or assume that these children have been involved in what may be perceived as immoral or illegal activities. This may include involvement in the sex industry, violence, killing and other criminal activities. Such perceptions often mean that children are stigmatised or demonised when returning home (Feeny 2005; Burman and McKay 2007; Betancourt et al. 2008; Betancourt et al. 2010; Ray et al. 2011; Cody 2013b; Guntzberger 2013).
Where separated children (including trafficked children) are unable to return home, they may also encounter shared experiences with other groups who are integrating into a new setting, such as unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Research with unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children has identified a range of challenges, including social isolation and loneliness, which can be exacerbated by the inability to speak the language; lack of support systems, connectedness and a sense of belonging; homesickness; and in some cases a sense of limbo as their legal status is reviewed and determined (Kohli and Mather 2003; Hek 2005; Kohli 2011; Thomas and Devaney 2011).
Professionals working to facilitate reintegration have also noted many similar challenges in supporting children and families through the reintegration process. This includes the fact that so-called ‘groups’ of children are rarely homogeneous. Every child has distinct experiences, personal characteristics, family circumstances, support networks and coping strategies which make it impossible to prescribe a standardised approach to reintegration. There is no one-size-fits-all solution and no recipe for reintegration.
Reintegration activities carried out with the best of intentions have, in some circumstances, led to a number of negative, unintended consequences or ‘collateral damage’, the term used by one organisation criticising interventions driven by anti-trafficking providers (GAATW 2007). One concern has been that the targeting of specific groups of children can actually heighten stigma and increase risks for children and their families (Wessells 2006; Boothby et al. 2012). In some circumstances, targeting can also lead to jealously if certain children and young people are offered free education and training or if support is provided to some families and not others. This can lead to envy in a community where the rest of the population is also struggling to support their children and cover the costs of their education. It has been reported that such programming can create a dangerous and paradoxical view in the community that child survivors of rape or trafficking and their families are ‘lucky’ in some way (Simcox and Marshall 2011).
The use of alternative care has been another area of contention in (p.142) reintegration work. Although emergency accommodation and alternative care options are an important part of recovery and reintegration, reports suggest that in some contexts children are staying for far too long in what essentially are institutions (Cody 2013c). Parents may believe that their child is ‘better off’ staying in a residential shelter where they will have access to food, shelter and education. Reports from Cambodia suggest that social workers believe that girls who have been raped or trafficked should stay longer in centres so they can access vocational training and education (Simcox and Marshall 2011). This clearly is a concern as such developments may promote and prolong family separation in contexts where resources and opportunities are limited in the areas where children have come from.
A traditional failing in reintegration work has been to focus work primarily towards either boys or girls without applying a gendered lens to reintegration efforts (Tefferi 2003). For children associated with the fighting forces, it has been well documented that girls were very much neglected in the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programmes that were put in place to support the reintegration of young people following conflict (Williamson 2006). Girls’ roles were perceived as peripheral and their needs were not catered for (McKay and Mazurana 2004). In other situations, the needs of boys have also tended to overshadow the needs of girls, for example, in work focusing on gang-affected young people (Firmin 2011) and street-connected youth (Guntzberger 2013). On the other hand, work focusing on sexual abuse and sexual exploitation repeatedly fails to notice, understand or cater for boys and young men (Pawlak and Barker 2012; Brayley et al. 2014).
With these and other commonalities, it appears that there is some value in breaking down the partitions that have developed around reintegration thinking and practice for these specific ‘categories’ of children. Recent developments, such as the US Government Evidence Summit on Protecting Children Outside of Family Care in 2011 (US Government International Assistance for Children in Adversity 2011) and the development of the Interagency Group on Reintegration in 2013 (see Wedge 2013), indicate that there is a desire for such cross-sector learning.
Background to the monitoring and evaluating reintegration project
The need to share learning across reintegration efforts, paired with the lack of understanding of ‘what works’ when it comes to facilitating (p.143) the reintegration of separated children, (specifically trafficked children) led to the establishment of a new monitoring and evaluating (M& E) reintegration project. Following an inception workshop in 2012, hosted by the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Centre for Rural Childhood, Perth College and Home, The Child Recovery and Reintegration Network (which was hosted at the Centre), an inter-agency steering group was formed to support the project which included representatives from international organisations such as EveryChild, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Save the Children UK and UNICEF, together with organisations directly supporting children in their reintegration including Retrak and Mkombozi.
Once approval was gained from the UHI Research Ethics Committee, a number of data collection activities were undertaken. First, literature on the reintegration experiences of children affected by varying forms of adversity, along with handbooks, manuals and articles related to monitoring and evaluation were identified and reviewed. Secondly, an online survey was developed for professionals with experience of working in the reintegration field. Finally, a consultation with children and young people with various experiences of separation, and who had been assisted by organisations, was designed and undertaken.
The online survey remained active for five weeks. It explored the views held by the participants who had taken part in the UHI Centre inception workshop in relation to the challenges of M& E and asked if these views were supported by workers in the field. It also looked at what M& E data was currently being collected and how organisations were gathering this information. Finally, it sought to understand what ‘changes’ organisations sought to understand when assessing reintegration and to gather views regarding different methods and approaches.
Fifty-one individuals based in twenty-one countries responded to the survey. The majority (55 per cent) worked for NGOs. Other respondents were independent consultants or worked for universities, governments, funders or community-based organisations. Altogether, the respondents had experience of reintegration work with children and young people in forty different countries. When provided with a list of different groups of children (for example, children who had been trafficked for sex, labour or other purposes; children living and working on the streets; children in residential care (p.144) settings) and asked ‘which “groups” of children and young people do you work with’, seven individuals reported working with just one ‘group’ of children. Most respondents, however, indicated that they had worked/were working with three to four ‘groups’ of children (Cody 2013d).
Barriers to monitoring and evaluating
When presented with a pre-developed list of challenges and asked ‘in your experience what are some of the key barriers to monitoring and evaluating reintegration programmes?’, the most frequent responses were: the short-term project cycles (NGOs often develop projects to fit within 2–3-year donor funding cycles); children move on/disappear so are hard to follow-up once they leave the programme; difficult to develop relevant meaningful indicators; lack of resources to plan and carry out M& E activities; the complexity of reintegration programmes; staff not sufficiently trained in M& E; hard to determine what ‘success’ is; lack of baseline data so difficult to measure change over time; lack of toolkits and guides to help organisations know how to monitor and evaluate; and difficult to know how to involve children in M& E activities (Cody 2013d).
Although some of the barriers identified come down to resource deficits, such as short funding cycles and scarce resources for M& E in general, other challenges relate specifically to the complexity of reintegration work. For example, following up with children who have returned home can be challenging. Many children are likely to end up returning to a different area, or state within a country or even to a different country. As one staff member working at Retrak, an organisation supporting street-connected children in Ethiopia and Uganda, reported: ‘providing adequate follow-up support is a challenge since children are reintegrated all over both countries, often at a large distance from Retrak’s centres’ (Retrak 2012: 2). A respondent to the survey noted that one challenge was ‘the geographic dispersion of reunited children, often in remote rural areas, and an increasing caseload with a limited number of personnel to make follow-up visits’ (Cody 2013d: 9).
The time and economic costs involved in this work often mean that it is not feasible to carry out face-to-face follow up visits to assess how the child and family are adjusting. For example, practitioners in Cambodia have highlighted the outlay of fuel needed to visit remote areas where children are typically returned (Cody 2012). In addition, there are the ethical implications of undertaking follow-up visits: is it possible that visits can do more harm than good? Regularly visiting (p.145) a child may increase stigma and gossip, and lead to the perception that the family are unable to care and provide for their own children. This quote from a case study in Uganda indicates that this may very well be an issue on the ground: ‘They [the community] also openly resented the special attention Apiyo received from her counsellors, which in turn made the girl decide to bar any follow-up activities by the World Vision (WV) counsellors’ (Akello et al. 2006: 231).
Despite these barriers and tensions to following up, conclusions from a recent review exploring the protection of children outside of family care reiterate the importance of this work: ‘long-term tracking enables more careful study of the interaction of multiple influences on children, gives strong clues about better approaches to protecting children and supporting their resilience and can indicate the long-term impact of interventions’ (Ager et al. 2012: 735).
In addition to the complexity of follow up work, the contributions of particular activities or aspects of support can also be difficult to deconstruct; organisations typically provide a holistic package of support. Reintegration work also often involves working not only with the child, but also working with the parents or carers, siblings and extended family. This work can help the family to prepare and build a safe, stable, supporting and secure household for the returning child. Initiatives may also seek to change the knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of community members so that they are more welcoming, sensitive, accepting and respectful to returning children. At the same time, efforts may be made to enable the community to protect these young people and others from future danger. Organisations may also be working towards higher level changes, influencing policy and legislation at the local, state or national level. Or working regionally or internationally, to learn and share information on how to better care for and work with children and young people during the reintegration process. This means organisations do more than collect information on one activity or with one group.
The multiplicity of activities that organisations feel they have to be involved in to effectively support reintegration was reflected in the answers to the following survey question: ‘What are the particular changes you hope to see based on your programming?’ The most frequent responses being changes in the child’s safety and protection, education, health status, life skills, and confidence and self-esteem. Respondents also stated that they worked to change the communities’ acceptance of and attitudes and behaviours towards the child, the child’s involvement in activities in the community and the child’s relationship with family or carers. In addition, a number of respondents also selected changes in the implementation of existing laws and policies, and changes in the community systems and structures (p.146) to make environments more welcoming and inclusive for returning children (Cody 2013d).
In addition to the pre-defined categories provided, respondents also described other changes. These included: ‘space for child decision-making and agency’; ‘coordination and cooperation between government and non-government agencies in reintegration planning, preparation and follow-up’; ‘children remaining in a household over time, with the above being achieved at an acceptable level’; and ‘less pathologising of people in difficult situations’ (Cody 2013d: 10–11). Together the responses demonstrate why, for many, trying to understand and assess whether and which reintegration activities are ‘successful’ is not a straightforward task.
The consultation with children and young people
In addition to the survey with practitioners, the project undertook a consultation with children and young people who had been supported in their reintegration by organisations. The aim of the consultation was to understand children’s views on two main areas: what children and young people felt were the most significant changes that had happened to them from their involvement in a reintegration programme; and what indicators, in their opinion, showed that a child had ‘successfully reintegrated’.
Organisations supporting children to reintegrate were identified and approached to ask if they would be interested in taking part. From those that were interested, a number were selected and took part in the consultations. The selection process was based on a number of factors, such as the geographical location of the organisation, the background of the children they supported, and the type of support they offered to try to gain a diverse sample of children and young people in different settings with various experiences.
The author, along with an experienced child participation consultant, worked together with nine partner organisations that were based in seven countries: Challenging Heights in Ghana; Pendekezo Letu in Kenya; UYDEL in Uganda; Retrak in Uganda; Shalom Centre in Tanzania; Retrak in Ethiopia; Atina in Serbia; and Tjeter Vizion and Different and Equal, both in Albania. The activities were piloted by the organisation Retrak in Ethiopia and Uganda. Following the pilot, all the partner organisations received virtual training and in-depth guidelines, including an ethical protocol developed by the consultant on how to safely carry out the consultation with children and young people (Veitch 2013b).
Staff members from the partner organisations facilitated the consultations with children and young people that they had previously supported, or were still supporting in their reintegration journey. The majority of children and young people involved were perceived to have been reintegrated (n = 87) and had moved on from shelter homes and centres and were living back with families, in foster families, with friends or independently. Two young people were in the process of accessing support to prepare for their ‘reintegration’ into a stable, permanent setting.
When asked to provide a brief description of the children’s and young people’s background, it was clear that partner organisations themselves struggled in coming up with one discrete label to describe the young people’s previous vulnerabilities. This process in itself revealed the overlaps in experience. Children were not just affected by one form of vulnerability, and partner organisations were not just working with one homogeneous group. Instead, one organisation, for example, explained the young women they were consulting with had all left school early and, as a group, had been affected by sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, labour exploitation and trafficking.
Thirty-five boys were involved in the consultation: seven boys from Ethiopia, who had lived and worked on the streets (13–17 years); eleven boys from Uganda, with similar experiences (14–18 years); ten boys from Ghana, who had been trafficked into the fishing industry (12–14 years); and seven boys from Albania, who had backgrounds of violence, abuse, abandonment and trafficking (10–14 years).
The fifty-four girls and young women involved included: ten young women from Uganda, who had been sexually exploited and had experienced other forms of adversity, such as labour exploitation and abuse (19–22 years); fifteen girls from Kenya with backgrounds of domestic work and/or scavenging (10–13 years); ten girls from Tanzania with experiences of sexual exploitation and street connection (11–14 years); nine girls from Serbia (15–20 years), who had been trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation; and ten girls from Albania (19–20 years), who had been trafficked for sexual or labour exploitation.
The consultation did not claim to represent the differential experiences of all children supported; that is, either by the partner organisation, or of children and young people more generally in those settings or circumstances. The partner organisations, based on their knowledge of the child or young person and whether it was safe and appropriate for them to be involved, selected the sample to invite to take (p.148) part in the workshop. It is likely that the children and young people who took part had positive experiences with the organisation, which may explain their willingness to come back and take part in the consultation. Again, this may not have been the case for other children and young people who had been supported. Notwithstanding these potential biases, the consultation process led to some interesting and important insights into how children and young people experienced the reintegration process and how they determined ‘success’.
The ‘most significant changes’ for young people
To elicit responses to the question ‘what do children and young people feel are the most significant changes that have happened to them since engaging with the programme?’ children and young people were invited to use a method known as ‘river of life’. Children and young people were asked to draw or write ‘their story’ starting from when they first came into contact with the partner organisation. Along this journey they were asked to draw or refer to relevant events or changes that they felt had come about due to their contact with the partner organisation or due to other experiences unconnected to the support they received from the organisation.
Through the images and words they created, they were able to tell their reintegration stories identifying key people, events and changes. A number of children talked about their experiences of initially coming to the centre or shelter and how this was an unnerving experience for them. They also talked about how their basic needs were met by the partner organisations, and how they had been provided with food, medical treatment and shelter. ‘The most important things I got in my two months stay in Retrak were medical treatment, shower service, food and night shelter’ (Konso, 17 years old, Ethiopia).1
For young women–specifically those who had been trafficked–being somewhere safe and secure was mentioned as a significant change in their stories. ‘In the beginning I felt like everything is unfamiliar to me and later I cannot describe it, I finally had people around me, I was safe’ (Milja, 20 years old, Serbia). In addition to their basic needs being met, they reflected on what else they had gained and learned from the staff and their time spent in shelters. This included opportunities and experiences that built their confidence and self-esteem, allowed them to attend school, trust again, and build relationships with friends and family. ‘I am now in school and it has helped me a lot, I can now write and read’ (One Lovely, 12 years old, Ghana).
(p.149) Children and young people also spoke about how they had learned about rights and responsibilities, developed values, life skills and positive behaviours. ‘I think twice before I act and I have become reflective person; I can take decisions for myself’ (Kleja, 19 years old, Albania).
On moving on, some young people spoke about being nervous about leaving behind friendships, supportive adults, and the relative safety and security of the shelter or transit centre. However, many felt like they had been well prepared for going back to families–expressing that the partner organisation had helped them to rebuild relationships with family members:
Reunion with my sister after many years changed my life; meeting with my mother; conversation with psychologist helped me to express my feelings; finding a foster family made me happy and I felt loved for the first time in my life.
(Emanuela, 20 years old, Albania)
In some cases the organisation had also helped the family by making improvements to the family home or helping a parent secure vocational training or work. ‘When I came back home our house had light and water wasn’t coming in, my aunt was now selling clothes, she now gets money’ (Carolina, 14 years old, Kenya).
For the older young people, securing their own income was also significant. As Romeo, 18 years old from Uganda said: ‘I am now doing a course in building and concrete practice and have hope that with these skills I will get a job and be able to support myself.’ It was clear that although many of the children and young people were doing well, some had faced a number of challenges in their lives after leaving the shelter in terms of building relationships, finding a permanent place to live and securing an income:
Life was not easy when I left the centre after the training. It was hard for me to find other friends and even more hard to find a job. It took me a month to find a job, so I worked at home where I was staying with my elder sister. After working for the entire month, I decided to talk to my elder sister if she could assist me to start a small salon. I convinced her to give me some money to start my own salon but this did not materialise because she passed on.
(Pretty, 20 years old, Uganda)
Indicators of ‘successful reintegration’
The second key question that the consultation aimed to address was ‘what “indicators” or “signs” show us that a child has “successfully (p.150) reintegrated” and, out of these, which indicators are most important for children and young people?’ Following discussions that explored how to define the concept of ‘successful reintegration’ with the different groups of children and young people, the groups were asked to imagine what a ‘successfully reintegrated’ child may look like and to brainstorm and create a list of indicators or ‘signs’ that might demonstrate this success.
Following this initial activity, the group were asked to rank the indicators along a line with what they felt the most important indicator was at one end and the least important indicator at the other. The young people were asked to rank the indicators by discussing with each other where they felt each indicator should be placed and why. These activities were based on and adapted from similar activities that had been undertaken with groups of children and young people in various international settings to understand the concepts of ‘well-being’ and reintegration (Crivello et al. 2009; Stark et al. 2009).
Through analysing the information that came out of these exercises, it was clear that children and young people across the different consultations felt that one of the most important indicators of successful reintegration should be whether a child’s basic needs were met. Indicators that were mentioned by the groups included things like ‘has good shelter’, ‘has access to water’, ‘has access to medical care’ and ‘feeds well’.
The children and young people were able to give clear reasons as to why these basic needs were of primary importance. ‘Child can get treatment when sick because if they are in good health it will make them study well and live a healthy life. You cannot go to school without being in good health’ (boys at Retrak in Uganda; Veitch 2013a: 3).
Young people also gave equal importance to the area of emotional support, safety and their relationship with their family and the community. Children and young people spoke about different aspects such as: ‘feels safe’, ‘has a safe house’, ‘acceptance’, ‘has good relationship with family and community’, ‘good relationship with familiar people and friends’, ‘friends’, ‘being respectful and also respected’, ‘being able to associate with other people in the community’, ‘respected by people in the community’ and ‘when a child is shown love and valued within the family and the community’.
Following these areas of importance, children also described how certain internal strengths, skills and behaviours could indicate successful reintegration. This included things such as ‘being confident’, ‘children believe in themselves and abilities’, ‘avoiding peer pressure’, ‘children will not go back to previous situations’, ‘emotionally and psychologically stable’, ‘communication skills’, ‘has gained new (p.151) problem-solving and decision-making skills’, ‘self-awareness’, ‘self-control’, ‘happy and smiling’, ‘is adaptable in different new environment’ and ‘independence’.
Children and young people also identified indicators related to educational and employment status along with knowledge of child rights. Indicators included things such as ‘the children are in school or skills training’, ‘goes to school’, ‘having vocational skills’, ‘reenters the school system or follows a professional course’, ‘has a sustainable income’, ‘has a sustainable job place’, ‘getting my own money from my sweat’, ‘support family but not exploited’, ‘documents and rights’, ‘community is aware of children’s rights’ and ‘know our basic children’s rights’. The children and young people’s views in some ways mirrored what practitioners had indicated, that as reintegration is in essence about achieving overall well-being, there are far too many aspects to consider and measure in isolation.
The indicators developed by children and young people in many ways mirrored the ‘changes’ that practitioners identified in the survey; changes or improvements in a child’s safety and protection, education, life skills, confidence and self-esteem, relationship with family or carers; and the communities’ acceptance of and attitudes and behaviours towards a returning child. By ranking the indicators, children and young people were able to show what they felt were the most important areas to consider when ascertaining whether reintegration had been successful.
Given the complex nature and multiple facets of reintegration work, such exercises can be important and helpful, providing critical knowledge and understanding to organisations working in different communities. The exercise also demonstrated again the different stakeholders that need to be considered in reintegration work, not only the individual children, but the family, peers and the wider community.
Conclusions and future directions
This chapter aimed to consider why evaluating reintegration work and sharing learning between organisations working with different ‘groups’ of separated children, including trafficked children, is so challenging. Through exploring the siloed approach to work with separated children, together with the nature of reintegration work and the experiences of practitioners involved, an abundance of barriers and difficulties clearly emerge. The chapter has also contributed new voices to our understanding of the important elements of reintegration, as understood by assisted children and young people.
(p.152) What is clear from both the experiences of practitioners and children and young people, is that those working to support reintegration must go beyond the numbers. Reporting that ‘twenty-three children were successfully reintegrated’ means very little. As a respondent to the survey expressed: ‘it would be already useful to go beyond the simple notion of reintegration as the physical transfer from a situation A to B, but looking at well-being of people in their context’ (Cody 2013d: 24). It is clear from the literature, views and voices of those involved in this work that reintegration is not simply about reunification. Reintegration work essentially involves all aspects of well-being, and due to this there is not one magic ‘indicator’ that can capture the range and complexity of reintegration and help us to conclude whether or not reintegration has been ‘successful’. As the same respondent noted in the survey: ‘there is a need to capture as much as possible process indicators instead of insisting on the numbers of children reunified as the only indicator for success since reintegration is process-based’ (Cody 2013d: 24). This is something that organisations supporting trafficked children need to be mindful of as reunification in itself is unlikely to prevent re-victimisation and re-trafficking in the future.
The data from the survey and consultation not only offer food for thought on the areas where organisations could consider collecting information to assess whether a child has successfully reintegrated, but the consultation also demonstrates that children are, as has been recognised by others, ‘experts in their own lives’ (Langstead 1994, as cited in Crivello et al. 2009). Children and young people should not only be consulted, but meaningfully involved in the planning, design and implementation of monitoring and evaluation processes. The children and young people involved in this consultation, who ranged from the ages of 10 to 22 years old, were all able to discuss what support and changes they felt were important to them, and were able to articulate, based on their own experiences, what successful reintegration looked like in their communities. Such a participatory process could therefore be the first step in developing appropriate, socially and culturally grounded indicators of successful reintegration.
This is a particularly important point when it comes to trafficked children. Trafficked children are often deemed to be ‘too vulnerable’ to participate in consultations, planning and research. Authors, reflecting on this point in relation to sexually exploited children, note that there are specific tensions between protection and participation, ‘this tension is rooted in the two seemingly contradictory positions on young people–that they are either “victims” or agents of change’, they cannot be both (Warrington 2013: 112). Such conclusions (p.153) resonate and explain why trafficked children’s voices and views are often so hard to find in the literature. This project demonstrated that trafficked children and young people have a lot to say about the support they need. Although, of course, such work needs to be well planned and ethically sound, children must be given the spaces and opportunities to share their wishes, experiences and knowledge when it comes to reintegration.
Another interesting finding from the project is that much of the basic information that was identified as useful during data collection could be collected in case management forms and processes. This information could not only be used to monitor and plan appropriate support for the young person, but could also, if appropriate consent was acquired, provide a rich source of data for monitoring and evaluation purposes. This would minimise the burden of additional data gathering for both the child and organisation. For example, if standard follow-up questions were developed and workers were trained appropriately and were able to record accurately, then information on the child’s education, relationships and so on could provide essential evidence on how the child had integrated.
Of course, there are a number of potential problems and questions that may arise from involving internal staff in this type of data collection, for example, does this create blurred boundaries between research and assistance? And what level of rigour and independence can be expected if data is collected by support workers? (Surtees and Craggs 2010). However, if organisations or welfare agencies are not able to fund robust external evaluations from the start, then using data from the case management system may be the next best thing in terms of trying to understand experiences of reintegration and being able to reflect on and respond to that learning.
The findings from the M& E reintegration project have helped shape the development of a number of tools and papers for organisations supporting reintegration (see www.childrecovery.infoformoreinformation). The consultation also provided insights into the types of simple participatory tools and methods that could be used to explore reintegration with children and young people (for full details, see Veitch 2013a). The hope is that in the future more organisations working with separated and trafficked children will start working closely together and will start listening to children and young people, shaping activities to support ‘successful reintegration’ as defined by young people rather than by adult professionals and funders.
The author would like to thank all the children and young people and partner organisations who took part in the consultation process. Thanks are also due to Helen Veitch who developed the consultation guidelines and reported on the findings. Key inputs and insights provided throughout the process by the inter-agency steering group are also greatly appreciated.
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(1.) All names are pseudonyms selected by the children and young people.