Friday, December 21, 2012

U.S. Unveils Plan to Assist Children Facing Adversity

By Kathryn McConnell | Staff Writer | 20 December 2012

Two girls raising their hands, with boy at right (USAID)
The U.S. plan to assist vulnerable children aims to increase families’ capacity to feed, educate and nurture their children.

Washington — Achieving a world where all children survive, grow up with protective family care and are free from deprivation, exploitation and danger is the goal of a new blueprint for U.S. international assistance.
The five-year plan, introduced December 19 at the White House, is the latest step in the ongoing U.S. effort to improve the lives of children worldwide. In June, the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID) joined the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the governments of Ethiopia and India in an event called “Child Survival Call to Action,” designed to accelerate progress on newborn, child and maternal survival. To date, 168 countries have signed on to the initiative.

USAID will implement the new plan with the departments of State, Labor, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Defense, along with the Peace Corps and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR,) in more than 100 countries.

More than 100 civil society and faith-based organizations endorsed the plan. A public-private partnership is being formed to mobilize resources to meet its objectives, USAID says.

Research shows that children who experience violence or are exploited, abandoned, abused or severely neglected face significant threats to their survival and to their social and economic well-being, USAID says. Children in adversity do not have protective family care, or they live in abusive households, on the streets or in institutions. They are trafficked, participate in armed groups or are exploited for labor. Others face risks from extreme poverty, disease, disability or disaster, USAID says.

“The science is clear. Childhood experiences shape adult outcomes, including long-term health, cognitive development, academic achievement and one’s ability to be gainfully and safely employed,” said Neil Boothby, U.S. government special adviser on children in adversity.

The five-year plan says evidence shows that nations that invest in their children have promising futures.
Thirty percent of the world’s children do not reach their developmental potential because of poverty, disease, conflict and disaster, according to USAID. “If we are serious about change, really breaking through cycles of poverty and inequality, we must start early,” Boothby said.

The plan seeks to build strong beginnings by strengthening child welfare and protection systems, putting family care first, and protecting children from domestic and sexual violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect. The plan aims to significantly reduce the number of children living outside of family care; increase families’ capacity to feed, educate, nurture and protect their children; and increase the number of children meeting age-appropriate growth and developmental milestones.

The plan states that past efforts to assist vulnerable children in low- and middle-income countries focused on single vulnerabilities — such as being affected by HIV/AIDS, or being in an emergency, child labor or trafficking situation. “Coordinated, multifaceted action can help ensure that children in adversity benefit fully from polices and services,” it says.

In 2010, the United States joined governments, international organizations, civil society groups and private sector companies to create a global commitment to improve child nutrition during the 1,000 days from the start of a woman’s pregnancy through the child's second year, a period that is critical to a child’s ability to thrive for a lifetime.

The U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity (PDF, 2.56MB) is available on a multiagency website.

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