I reunify children with their families in South Sudan. With this new app, my job has just become a lot easier.
My name is Silvia and I’m a Child Protection specialist. I’ve worked across many countries and emergencies over my 8 years with Save the Children, and through this time my focus has been on giving vulnerable children the best chance to survive and thrive. It’s demanding, but incredible, work.
For the past two years, I’ve been based in South Sudan, one of the most challenging humanitarian environments in the world. My job here is to help children who have been separated from their families by the conflict. In the short term, we provide these kids with shelter, food, basic necessities, and psychological care. In the longer term, we work to find their families, run intensive checks, and finally, if everything is in order, arrange a reunification. Once together, we also visit the family regularly, to make sure the child is settling back in safely.
There is nothing easy about case management work. Every child in the system has a complex story. They might have survived sexual violence, they might have lost their loved ones, they might have suffered injuries or been used by armed groups. When children come into our case management system, often they are showing signs of abuse, neglect and psychological distress.
Soon after I arrived in South Sudan, I met an orphaned 10-year-old boy called Chol who was staying with strangers in a small village in the north of the country, in a region directly affected by armed conflict. He told us his only living relative was an uncle living in Juba, over 600km away. With this information, our team linked up to partners in Juba, found his uncle, and made sure the uncle was ready to take care of his brothers’ son.
I was lucky enough to accompany Chol on his journey to Juba. He was very shy, but you could see in his eyes the excitement of travelling by helicopter for the first time and arriving at the Juba airport. In the car, on the way to his uncle’s place, he looked amazed by the sight of paved roads. He asked me about school, and pointed at some of the big buildings.
When Chol was reunited with his uncle, I was surprised at how stoic they both were. I was almost in tears, but they were very quiet – although you could sense the emotion. We captured the reunification in this video. When I returned a few months later to visit, I was amazed on how well Chol was doing. He came back from school with a school bag and big smile on his face. I was so touched by his caring uncle and how a child can recover and thrive when supported in safe family and caring environment. I get a smile on my face when I just think about his story. What a wonderful outcome!
Another child’s story that stuck with me was six-month-old Beatrice* who I found lying alone on the road in Juba. It was a shock; it was the first time I found a baby on the road in my career. I called our Interim Care Centre in Juba and asked if they had any spaces available. The little girl was calm and didn’t cry when I was holding her and carrying her to the centre. Her clothes were dirty and she looked like she had a bit of fever. In the centre they took care of her, giving her new clothes, a medical check, and round-the-clock-care.
The next day when I went to meet her to start all the documentation to trace her family, she looked much more awake. She seemed to really enjoy the company and being held by the other older girls. We eventually found her family, and continue to visit her now through our case management program, to make sure she’s safe and happy.
Since 2013, Save the Children has been leading case management work in South Sudan, and in particular leading work in family tracing and reunification. Through coordinating and providing technical support to over 30 partners across different locations, we have reunified over 6,000 children with their families.
The system, however, is not perfect. Until today it’s been paper-based and arduous. Sharing data between agencies has been difficult, and making referrals and arranging follow ups has been time consuming.
Today, this all changes, with the launch of the new online system and app supporting our case management procedures. It uses sophisticated matching technology to pair tracing requests made by caregivers with records of children registered as separated or unaccompanied. All the information will be hosted in the cloud, and backed up with strong confidentiality measures. It can be downloaded and synced, which is critical in South Sudan, where connectivity is very poor especially in remote and hard to reach areas.
The best part is, the new system puts children first. The technology and tools available for cases workers and supervisors will help us speed up the process to support and respond to children experiencing different forms of violence or in need of family tracing and reunification.
This new system with the app for tablets and phones will change my work and the work of my colleagues, and in turn will change the lives of thousands of children. It’s innovations like this that Save the Children is known for, and I am thrilled and proud to be part of this organisation and helping children like Chol and Beatrice* have a safer, brighter future.
*Name has been changed to protect identify.