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Responding to vulnerable children – strengthening case management and referral mechanisms

December 11, 2012

Despite broad consensus that children are an especially vulnerable group, an adequate response to their multiple and complex needs is currently lacking in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESAR). There is a need for a more comprehensive and systematic response in which referral mechanisms and case management play a crucial role; they are essential in ensuring that vulnerable children are identified, their needs correctly assessed and that they receive cross-sectoral support. In a recently published IDS InFocus Policy Briefing, we recommend a number of ways forward with respect to referral mechanisms and case management in the region.

Although interest and investment in the response to vulnerable children is expanding, there are a number of challenges that impede effective referral mechanisms and case management for vulnerable children. The brief provides recommendations as to how to address those challenges.

Firstly, it is unclear what exactly these concepts mean – both in theory and practice. National definitions are often lacking, leaving different stakeholders to interpret them and act upon them in their own ways. Consensus should be reached on a common understanding of what constitutes effective referral systems and case management, and on what these should achieve for vulnerable children.

Secondly, national mandates and accountability mechanisms are often lacking, making it unclear who is responsible for what and can be held responsible for such responsibilities. The articulation of clear mandates is vital for translating common understandings of referral mechanisms and case management into practical roles and responsibilities.

Thirdly, the response to vulnerable children is currently very ‘siloed’ with little collaboration across sectors. Strong monitoring and evaluation systems and accountability frameworks are crucial for tracking children over time and over different sectors, and can encourage cooperation between sectors as well as between statutory and more informal or community-based services.

Finally, resources – in financial and human terms – are scarce.  Although the squeeze on HIV-funding and development in general makes access to resources more difficult, new opportunities arise given the recent interest and funds supporting social protection interventions and systems-strengthening efforts more broadly. Being able to make a sound investment case and linking the call for case management and referral mechanisms for vulnerable children to other policy debates will help to tap into those resources.

 CBCC in Mchinji district, Malawi

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