USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Youth

A Roadmap to Protecting the World’s Most Vulnerable Children

Ambassador Luis CdeBaca directs the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Photo Credit: Dept. of State

Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of Emancipation in September 2012, President Obama reaffirmed America’s commitment to promoting “a sense of justice that says no child should ever be exploited.” Yet around the world, we know that modern slavery victimizes so many children, whether it is a girl sold by her parents as a domestic servant, a boy forced to beg on the streets, or children prostituted in brothels. As Ambassador-at-Large to Combat Trafficking in Persons, I echo the President’s call and I urge governments to ramp up action and enhance accountability to protect children around the world from this sort of abuse.

The first U.S. Government Action Plan (PDF) on Children in Adversity provides an important framework through which to guide and galvanize U.S. government agencies to protect the world’s most vulnerable children. The Action Plan underscores the plight of children in the most dire straits: those living on the streets, participating in armed groups, and displaced by natural disasters or political unrest. We recognize that children in these situations are particularly vulnerable to one of the most far-reaching crimes against children: human trafficking.

I am enthusiastic about this Action Plan because it provides a critical roadmap to address collectively the global needs of trafficked and other vulnerable children. It is a powerful example of American leadership and commitment to protect and to ensure a brighter future for all our children.

In May 2009, Ambassador Luis CdeBaca was appointed by President Obama to coordinate U.S. government activities in the global fight against contemporary forms of slavery. He serves as Senior Advisor to the Secretary and directs the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which assesses global trends, provides training and technical assistance, and advocates for an end to modern slavery.

 

Strong Families Equal Strong Nations

Kathleen Strottman is the Executive Director at the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. Photo Credit: CCAI.

Business giant, Lee Lacocca once said, “The only rock that stays steady, the only institution that works is the family.” This simple, yet profound, principle is one that has not only withstood the test of time but is also the foundation of emerging brain science.

Here is what we know: We know that strong families are the building blocks of strong communities, and strong communities are the building blocks of strong nations. Thanks to leaders like Dr. Jack Shonkoff, we know that relationships with other human beings are not a luxury for children, but an absolute necessity.  But you do not need to be a Nobel Prize-winning economist or a world-renowned neurologist at Harvard to be able to recognize that children do best when raised by loving and protective parents.  For many of us, we need only to reflect on our own life experience to understand the impact that a loving embrace or encouraging words have in times of stress.

Despite these certainties, millions of children in the world are growing up without the care of a protective and permanent family. These children live in institutions or on the streets; they have been torn from their families because of war or disaster; or they have been bought and sold for sex or labor. And worst yet, the number of children who suffer such fates is rising. For this to change, governments of the world need to not only recognize that children have a basic human right to a family; they must also establish and enforce laws and systems to protect this right. It is for this reason that the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI) is proud to support the U.S. Government’s Action Plan on Children in Adversity.

Under the plan’s tenets, the millions of children outside of family care will have the opportunity to benefit from programs that prevent them from being separated from their families and quickly reunify them when separation proves inevitable. The Plan also makes the commitment to pursue adoption, foster care, kinship and guardianship for children whose biological families are unable or unwilling to care for them. This is a major step forward and holds promise not only for the futures of children, but the future of nations.

Kathleen Strottman is the Executive Director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI). Prior to working at CCAI, Kathleen served for nearly eight years as a trusted advisor to Senator Mary Landrieu and then as an associate at Patton Boggs, LLC. As the Senator’s Legislative Director, Kathleen worked to pass legislation such as the No Child Left Behind Act, The Medicare Modernization Act, The Inter-Country Adoption Act, The Child Citizenship Act of 2000, The Adoption Tax Credit and the Family Court Act. Throughout her career, Kathleen has worked to increase the opportunity for positive dialogue and the exchange of best practices between the United States and countries such as China, Romania, Russia, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Ethiopia and India. Kathleen regularly presents at national and international child welfare conferences and has appeared on CNN, FOX News, CBS, NBC, C-SPAN, PBS and numerous other media outlets. She is also a regular contributor to Adoption Today magazine.

Changing the World for Children

My life changed on that cold January day. It was the day my husband and I walked away from the orphanage, hand-in-hand with the first two – of our ten total – adopted children, having stepped into a realm where it is often winter and seldom Christmas.

Susan Hillis and her family. Dr. Hillis is a senior advisor for Global Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Photo Credit: Susan Hillis.

That, though, is not what caused “The Change” to which I refer. What changed me is this: I turned around and looked back, to see a sea of faces peering through the chain-linked fence capped by barbed wire.  And this is what their hands were holding: that cold wire fence. That day I decided to do my part to change the world for children – not just my children, but all vulnerable children.

A dream this monumental would only become real if leaders around the world could see it, too. Today, this historic launch of the U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity makes me believe that my dream has become yours, and that, together, we will see our dream become real.

We will see nurture replacing violence; light replacing darkness; hope replacing despair. United with global leaders in governments, civil society and business, we will walk hand-in-hand – devoted to changing the world for children.

Dr. Susan Hillis has served in many roles, including mother, nurse, university professor, government official and scientist. Personally, she and her husband have 10 children, eight of whom were adopted from orphanages at older ages. Her experience suggests that hope transforms the storms of life. Currently she works as a Senior Advisor for Global Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Her research over two decades has led to 100 publications addressing topics such as adverse childhood experiences, violence, vulnerability and HIV, in the United States and around the world. 

Photo of the Week: Reaching out to Youth in Latin America

USAID Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg visits with Honduran youth from Movimiento Jovenes Contra la Violencia at a USAID outreach center. Photo Credit: USAID

Last week, Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg traveled with Assistant Administrator Mark Feierstein to Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico to visit USAID projects, announce new initiatives, and meet with government officials, civil society, and USAID partners. During December 12th-13th Deputy Administrator Steinberg met with President Porfirio Lobo to discuss USAID’s ongoing work in Honduras, including crime prevention and food security. He also announced a new public-private partnership with TIGO, a regional cell phone company, which will provide internet access, cable TV, and free fixed telephone lines to each of USAID outreach centers for at-risk youth. By 2013, there will be 40 centers in Honduras and 100 throughout Central America as part of the Central America Regional Security Initiative.

A Conspiracy of Goodness

Neil Boothby is U.S. Government Special Advisor and Senior Coordinator to the Administrator on Children in Adversity. Photo Credit: Columbia University.

I’ve found there are some things on which everyone can agree.

  • Children need strong beginnings – health, nutrition and nurturing care – to live their most productive lives;
  • Children grow up best in the care of loving families;
  • Children have the right to live free of violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect.

These truths offer a simple moral imperative, but they are also backed by science. Neuroscientists, pediatricians and economists alike have demonstrated that a promising future belongs to those nations, communities and families that invest wisely in their children. I’ve studied the irrefutable links between the wellbeing of children and the economic and social progress of nations – they provide a compelling agenda for strengthening policies and investments to ensure that all children grow up within protective family care, and free from deprivation, exploitation and danger.

Following the genocide in Rwanda, over a million reed-thin and weary refugees poured into the Goma refugee camp in what was then Zaire. In the midst of cholera, relief workers brought infants and children to make-shift orphanages in an effort to save lives. Little babies were lined up like loaves of bread on cots, given vaccines to stave off preventable illnesses and fed routinely through IVs. Yet they still died by the hundreds. It’s called “failure to thrive”—the lack of human contact and nurturance required to live.

I looked into the eyes of many of these Rwandan babies who “failed to thrive”. It was an experience that continues to haunt me to this day. In a brief moment, I witnessed the flicker of God-given potential dim – a desperate fight at first, then resignation and a ghost-like stare until death. It’s the opposite of when I looked into my own son’s eyes and, for the first time, he recognized me and responded with delight!

Last year 6.9 million children died from preventable causes. We have the science to explain what happens within the bodies and brains of children who face deprivation, exploitation and danger. We have the evidence that demonstrates how early intervention break cycles of poverty, inequality and violence. We have empirical data that shows investments made early in the lives of children yield greater returns than at any other point in the life cycle. We have other champions and partner organizations on the ground prepared to roll up their sleeves and scale up what is proven to work. We work with governments all over the world that are prepared to partner to do more and better on behalf of their children in need.

In June, the Governments of Ethiopia, India and the United States, in collaboration with UNICEF, hosted the Child Survival Call to Action. As an important follow on to this global effort, this week the first-ever U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity (PDF) will be released. It is a testament to the fact that the U.S. government takes the science – and the investment – seriously. With significant investments in international development, the technical expertise and research capabilities embedded within key agencies, and diplomatic outreach, the U.S. government is well positioned to lead and mobilize around this sensible and strategic global agenda for children in adversity – children who face poverty, live on the streets or in institutions, are exploited for their labor or sex, recruited into armed groups, affected by HIV/AIDS, or separated from their families as a result of conflict or disaster.

The Action Plan I have helped to develop outlines objectives that will deliver ambitious and positive results for children. It also identifies programs that work and that can be taken to scale. It demonstrates that we can measure impact and affect change.

Yet, this work is about more than science, or sound economic investments. It is about the miracle and potential of each child, and our profound duty to care for our children, and in so doing, protect our future.

I have spent 40 years working to create a world in which all children grow up within protective family care and free from deprivation, exploitation and danger. The U.S. Government Action Plan moves us closer towards this vision. I invite you to join this global conspiracy of goodness.

Dr. Boothby has taken a leave of absence from Columbia University, where he is the Allan Rosenfield Professor of Clinical Forced Migration and Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. As Director of the Program on Forced Migration and Health, he has lead several research initiatives, including the Child Protection in Crisis (CPC) Learning Network—a constellation of over 150 agencies working in 32 countries on the development of an evidence base for efficacious child health and protection programming. Through the CPC Network, Dr. Boothby established university based research centers and graduate training programs in Africa, Asian and the Middle East.

16 Day Challenge: Preventing Violence Against Children and Women

Neil Boothby speaking at a press conference in Geneva in October 2012 to launch the "Mimimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action". Photo Credit: USAID

Today is Day 15 of our of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

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. Our experiences as children shape our lives as adults, affecting our ability to develop as healthy and productive individuals, families, communities and nations. One could say (with firm evidence as back up) that there is no sustainable development without sincere and sustained commitment to child development.

In the same way, our notions about what it means to be a female or male are imprinted in our brains early in development. Formative experiences – such as how our parents behave with one another and what caretaking and economic roles our mothers and fathers assume—influence our “normative gender expectations”.

If we are serious about change – really breaking through cycles of poverty and gender inequality– we must start early. Dr. James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate in Economics, has demonstrated that investments in young children produce much greater dividends than those made later in life. These physiological and economic arguments reinforce an even stronger moral imperative.

Evidence shows that violence against and exploitation of children and women – which often occur together and share common risk factors – can be prevented. Children who witness violence are significantly more at risk of health problems, anxiety disorders, poor school performance and violent behavior. Women who experience violence are less likely to earn a living and less able to care for their children.

Those who face violence face significant threats to their survival and well-being, as well as profound life cycle risks that have an impact on human, social and economic development. And the cycle of violence, exploitation, and abuse repeats itself, compromising the lives of children, women and families, and hindering the growth and productivity of communities.  The cycle also contributes to abuse as a normative gender expectation for males and females alike.  Until this cycle is broken—intentionally, strategically and early on, poverty, inequality and inhumanity will persist.

In the same way that public health efforts have prevented and reduced pregnancy-related complications, infant mortality, infectious diseases and illnesses, so can the factors that contribute to violent and abusive responses – attitudes, behavior and social, economic, political and cultural conditions –be changed.

In a few days, the U.S. Government will release an Action Plan on Children in Adversity, the first-ever government-wide strategic guidance for international assistance for children. The goal is to take strategic action to ensure that children grow up within protective family care and free from deprivation, exploitation and danger.

The Action Plan identifies programs that work and that can be taken to scale. It demonstrates that we can measure impact and affect change.  It builds on existing efforts that allow children to not only survive, but thrive – honoring children’s rights to strong beginnings, protective and loving family care, and protection from violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect. These objectives are central to U.S. development and diplomatic efforts and, as a result of the Action Plan, will be integrated into our international assistance initiatives.

We know what needs to be done.  Let’s get to it!

Giving Youth a Real Voice in Development

Giving youth real decision-making power and leadership roles in development processes and programs is a challenge in practice. We know from both our practice and research efforts that effective youth development needs to put meaningful youth participation at the forefront. RTI International’s experience working with youth around the globe in the areas of education, employment, health and governance for the past 30 years directs our strategy in placing them in key partner roles to solve global development challenges. With that in mind, we, along with other members of Alliance for International Youth Development (AIYD), strongly support the new USAID Youth in Development Policy (PDF), launched in November 2012.

The engagement of youth in development has been inconsistent. There are cases where youth are consulted on their needs and expectations and are invited to attend planning workshops or conferences. While these are important steps for youth participation, oftentimes they fall short of creating active roles in leadership. At worst, they provide the illusion that youth actually have a stake in the decision-making process.

The Arab Spring demonstrations in 2011 showed many governments the importance and impact that youth can play in civil society. This was clearly reflected in the passing of the new Moroccan constitution in July 2011, which emphasized good governance, accountability and citizen input into government affairs.

This past May, youth leaders convene with Moroccan government representatives to offer recommendations on the new Consultative Council for Youth and Community Work. Photo Credit: USAID Morocco Local Governance Program

Capitalizing on this unique context, RTI began working with commune councils and existing youth associations in the Moroccan cities of Safi, El Jadida, Séfrou, Sidi Harazem, and Ain Chgag to create seven Local Youth Councils that represent 134 youth associations in their cities.  RTI’s current implementation of the USAID Morocco Local Governance Program (LGP), “A Platform for Dialogue between Citizens and their Commune”, offers some lessons learned on giving youth a real voice in development.  LGP is taking an innovative approach in creating formal mechanisms for meaningful participation of youth in local affairs.

LGP is training young people in critical skills such as communications, participatory planning and negotiation in order to participate in roundtable discussions with commune council members. Together they discuss civic participation, youth employment, education and the communal charter.

The results are encouraging. Youth are engaged in local governance and are better organized as an important political constituency. They discuss and advocate their priorities to elected officials. But they want more, and are expressing that they want to see this heightened dialogue translate into concrete changes such as different decision-making patterns and results on youth issues.

A real opportunity for enhanced youth leadership and decision-making is before the Youth Councils and the Moroccan government. The new Moroccan constitution calls for the formation of an institutionalized Consultative Council for Youth and Community Work to play an advisory role to the government on youth policies. This past May, youth leaders from the LGP-formed Youth Councils hosted a forum with civil society experts, local government representatives and Parliament officials to provide concrete recommendations on how the Consultative Council should be created, what it should be implementing and how it can represent young people in the democratic process.

According to a youth leader from Safi, “Our proposals for the new Consultative Council are based on real discussion among youth leaders. Nobody told us what to do or what not to do. We do not want this to be just something that is designed in the capital. Instead, it should represent the vision of the youth across the country.”

An important focus for LGP in the next two years is to help the Youth Councils continue to work to influence the formation and agenda of the new Consultative Council, and to consolidate the existing seven (soon to be 10) youth councils into an institutionalized political structure that can be sustained beyond USAID-funding support.

RTI has learned that forming Youth Councils and training youth in the leadership skills they need to affect change takes significant time and resources. Often, the fruition of these efforts – marked by transformation into formal decision-making power and active leadership – is difficult to achieve in typical three to five year programmatic cycles.

Over the next few years, it will be critical to take a long-term perspective in achieving a real youth voice in Arab Spring countries, as well as other developing countries. This means sustaining youth dialogue and participation mechanisms from one program cycle into the next and institutionalizing youth bodies into formal political structures.

We are optimistic that the release of the Youth in Development Policy will encourage more missions, especially in countries with large and growing youth populations, to prioritize greater youth participation in development. RTI and the other AIYD members are committed to helping fulfill the Policy’s goal of equipping local youth leaders with skills and tools to create their own solutions, and to institutionalize their efforts in their countries’ development processes.

Young People in Bosnia Drive Economic and Social Development

The release of the new USAID policy (PDF) on youth and development is an opportunity to reflect on whether our work in development is truly serving the next generation.  As millions of young people transition from school to work, the urgency of the problem is clear. These young people have the potential to be engines of significant economic growth and agents of social change.  But if we fail to equip them with the skills they need, and if the market is unable to provide meaningful work, they will be a drain on national resources and a source of social instability.

Here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the problems faced by youth are particularly severe.  Unemployment among young people between the ages of 15 and 24 ranges as high as 60 percent.  And young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina are suffering a crisis of confidence.  They have lost faith that this society can provide them any opportunity for success. Civic involvement among young people is extremely low, and an alarming 97 percent of youth believe they have no or little influence on important decisions in the local community.

But the problem does not lie in them.  The problem is a society where young people have been taught that corruption is normal and acceptable, that the powerful can prey on the weak with impunity, and that the citizen does not have a meaningful voice.

A young woman from Zvornik in north-east Bosnia-Herzegovina is using a blower door and meter to measure air leakages to determine weatherization strategies in a rural house for the upcoming winter.

Yet these young people are brimming with good ideas to challenge societal norms. With the help of USAID, young people around the country are developing projects and putting them in motion. These projects are designed to tackle many of the country’s greatest needs.  These young people want to be the driving force behind social change by rebuilding divided multi-ethnic communities, becoming political leaders, and working with local officials to push for changes and resources for youth-driven community projects. They are ready to move their country into a prosperous future as a member of the European Union.

Investing in these young people is one of the soundest investments we can make. Development programs targeting youth can be enormously cost effective.  USAID Bosnia is investing in programming that leverages three dollars for every dollar of USAID assistance.  We are investing in job training programs linked to strategic industries in partnership with the private sector.  And we are teaching young people how to advocate for themselves.  By strengthening civil society, promoting entrepreneurship and helping to develop young leaders, we believe that a small investment now will result in a significant return in both economic and social development.

For more about youth programs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, visit our website.

A New Milestone in Child Protection

Disasters impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world every year. Half of those affected are children, who often bear the biggest brunt of humanitarian crises. Nowhere have we seen this more clearly than in the wake of the January 2010 Haiti earthquake. As a result of the disaster, hundreds of thousands of children lost a parent, caregiver or other family members. They lost access to essential services and resources including food, water, shelter, education and health care. Children who were separated from their families– orphaned or disabled– and those living and working as domestic servants were particularly vulnerable. Many more were exposed to violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect.

Children at a school damaged by the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2010. USAID, through the International Medical Corps, helped ensure that children were safe and protected when attending classes. Photo credit: Ron Libby, Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

This devastating event hammered home the need to provide children with timely and appropriate protection, care, and support when they need it the most. The need for child protection was clear in Haiti, and yet, despite the best of intentions and a wealth of resources, emergency child protection interventions were slow to start and inadequate for the scale of the problems. In reviewing what happened in Haiti, USAID and our global partners identified a need to advance our efforts for children in emergencies.

USAID is leading the charge in this effort by supporting the launch of the new Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action. These standards were developed by the Child Protection Working Group in response to the hard lessons we learned in Haiti. Specifically, these standards strive to strengthen coordination, increase accountability, improve the quality of protection programs, and enable better communication on issues involving children. These standards provide a common approach to the protection of children for the entire humanitarian community across sectors. Over the next few years, frontline humanitarian personnel will receive training on these new standards, and organizations will develop strategies to translate them into life-saving assistance on the ground.

While the standards are oriented to staff working in the field, I believe they also provide donors and governments with new opportunities to promote stronger child protection interventions especially in times of crisis. These new standards also compliment the commitments made in the soon-to-be released U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity. This plan emphasizes the need for the entire government to work together to ensure quality, coordinated, evidence-based programs to protect children. The U.S. Government is fully committed to seizing the opportunities presented through the release of these standards.

USAID's Neil Boothby (right) and UNICEF's Annette Lyth (left) discuss the new Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action at a press conference in Geneva. The standards were developed as common guidelines for the global humanitarian community. Photo credit: Eric Bridiers, U.S. Mission Geneva

I had the opportunity to attend the launch of the minimum standards earlier this month in Geneva. In the more than 30 years I have spent working in this field, I have witnessed first-hand the struggles children in Rwanda, Mozambique, Indonesia, Darfur, Haiti and elsewhere face in the wake of conflict and disaster. I am heartened to see how far we, the humanitarian community, have come in efforts to assist these children, and the promise and hope these standards give us all to do even more going forward.

Dr. Neil Boothby is the U.S. Government Special Advisor and Senior Coordinator to the USAID Administrator on Children in Adversity

 

From the Field: Giving At-Risk Youth a Chance in Guyana

For many at-risk youth, workforce development training is the key to gaining the necessary skills to enter the workforce and become productive, earning members of society. In Guyana, a Caribbean country on the northern coast of South America, USAID workforce development programs serve critical needs in areas where crime rates are high and youth who lack job skills have few options to make a living. A USAID-supported program aims to give young Guyanese youth who are vulnerable to crime and violence, or have already committed minor crimes, a chance to turn their lives around.

Employment coach Rollin Tappan advises a participant in the Guyana SKYE program. Photo credit: Tomaisha Hendricks, SKYE Program Officer (fully owned by EDC and the SKYE Project)

The Skills and Knowledge for Youth Employment (SKYE) Guyana project will, by August 2013, provide 805 at-risk youth ages 15 to 24 with training in market-driven skills, and improve their ability to transition into the workforce. Community partners are preparing youth for the workplace by providing training in communications, personal development, local labor laws and financial literacy — areas that have been identified as priorities by public and private sector employers in Guyana. All activities are integrated through the provision of employment coaches that are paired with each youth to assist them in reaching individual development destinations.

The SKYE Project is part of President Obama’s Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), in which the United States is working together with the nations of the Caribbean on substantially reducing illicit trafficking, increasing public safety and security, and promoting social justice. Funded by USAID, SKYE is managed by the Education Development Center (EDC), and works with private sector partners, government ministries, community agencies and NGOs.

Youth participating in SKYE activities are given the opportunity to avoid entering or re- entering the juvenile justice system by taking part in activities that help them achieve their goals and become productive members of their communities — before their lives are lost to crime, violence and incarceration.

Employment coaches are key to the project’s success. The SKYE Project is recruiting and training 22 employment coaches, mostly local credentialed social workers that focus on youth, to work with young participants in four regions throughout Guyana.

“It isn’t difficult to train youth to be carpenters or construction workers,” Corbin says. “But when training ends and job seeking begins, youth are in danger of vulnerability if they don’t get a job right away. Our employment coaches are there to provide support and guidance to transition youth to real jobs in their communities.”

In the next few years SKYE will also assess labor market needs to better position youth for success. The project is also working to build local capacities by providing curricula and training so that Guyanese communities can continue to engage at-risk youth and provide opportunities to become productive members of society.

Visit our website to learn more about the new USAID Youth Policy (PDF).

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