Separation from caregivers continues to be a persistent issue in Northwest Syria (NWS), requiring an examination of alternative care provisions and procedures. The lack of comprehensive institutionalised child protection mechanisms in Syria prior to the war, the limited availability of child protection services and the more recent disintegration of social support structures has raised questions about alternative care provisions and associated protection mechanisms practiced in NWS. This assessment captures details of the current situation from the various stakeholders working with children in NWS. For the purpose of informing response plans and practices of the national and international organisations working with children in NWS, this assessment examines the existing child-care models in NWS, it includes the emerging child protection structure, ongoing care initiatives and alternative care practices and discusses in detail the concerns and emerging challenges for particularly vulnerable and underserved groups of children.
Family-centred humanitarian assistance is urgently needed
The invisibility of children at risk and lack of sustainable support to keep families together are increasing the challenges faced by children of all ages in NWS. As coping systems crumble, accelerating separation of children from their families or kin is adding to the misery caused by the loss of one or both parents.
There is no system to collect data related to Unaccompanied and Separated Children (UASC) and no systematic regular status updates of their well-being, living conditions, school attendance.
Resulting in a complete lack of data where no one knows how many children have fallen out of parental care and are now missing, trafficked or even are dead.
Children in unsupervised living conditions are at the highest risk of deprivation of their basic needs, safety, development opportunities and dignity. Their numbers are increasing, especially the number of adolescent boys who are not adequately guided or prepared for their independence, instead they are harshly pushed out of care institutions once they reach puberty.
With limited access to education, training or work, these unsupported adolescents are taking up unsafe survival strategies, dangerous low-paid jobs. All of which increases their susceptibility towards radicalism or armed groups, creates a barrier for social cohesion, weakens family ties and undermines social cohesion.
The absence of support for a family-centred approach has resulted in the emergence of care that is institutional or residential (orphanages, widows/orphan shelters) in the past few years. The Child Protection Committee (CPC) has taken a cautious approach with these institutions. However, more active engagements, oversight, and support for the current facilities, especially to encourage adequate staff training and guidance on minimum standards and quality of care are necessary. While none of the involved parties wish to do harm for children and are motivated to provide the best possible support, they often face a lack of capacity, a lack of resources and issues of mistrust between the local authorities and the organisations. These obstacles may hinder the ability of institutions to provide the support needed to these children.
Given the limited outreach and response capacities of Child Protection (CP) actors, supports for families at risk of putting their children into alternative care must be mainstreamed across various clusters. Comprehensive sustained support is needed to address their multiple vulnerabilities; through family-centred humanitarian support, encompassing shelter, food security, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH), Non-food Items (NFI), livelihood and protection.