Disrupting Child-Harming Systems

Recognizing that even well-intentioned legal systems can harm children, the Center for the Human Rights of Children advances theories of change to disrupt child-harming legal systems via interdisciplinary collaboration, applied child-informed research, and narrative-shifting publications and advocacy. Innovating child-appropriate responses to reduce harm can be achieved by integrating lessons from juvenile justice, public health, and child welfare reforms, along with new strategies unique to the experience of migrant children, child survivors of human trafficking, and children impacted by climate inequity. The CHRC advances these efforts on several fronts including through the following initiatives:

Migrant Child & Youth Justice Initiative (MCYJI)

The U.S. immigration system treats migrant children and youth as adults in miniature—holding them to the same legal standards, bars to eligibility, and basic procedural hurdles as adult migrants. It is the only U.S. legal system that fails to recognize the developmental age or stage of the child, the best interests of the child, or the safety and well-being of the child.  Through the MCYJI, the CHRC convenes a cohort of multidisciplinary experts across systems and organizations to serve as a locus of expertise, capable of directing change. In connection with this initiative, the CHRC has been invited to engage the National Association of Immigration Judges to develop best practices for working with children by providing training, educational materials, conferences, research and policy briefs to inform and reform immigration policy and adjudicatory practice. The initiative will facilitate a national system mapping of all government points of contact with migrant children—from apprehension to adjudication—to develop model practices, informed by juvenile justice and other child-serving systems.

See the most recent publication of the Migrant Child & Youth Justice Initiative.

Interdisciplinary Study of Migrant Children in Government Custody

The CHRC is conducting a first-of-its-kind study designed to assess—from a comprehensive, multidisciplinary perspective—gaps and challenges for children in Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) care.

In the years since 2014, the landscape for care, custody and placement of unaccompanied immigrant children has changed dramatically in the United States. In response to unprecedented numbers of children seeking sanctuary in the U.S., ORR’s national network of shelters has grown to over 195 spread across 23 states. While the program has benefited from some legislative and policy improvements, including new standards to prevent sexual harassment or abuse, the volume of children has not permitted ORR to develop other necessary, research-informed policies and practices. The onset of a global pandemic has further complicated child protections in congregate care settings.

The dramatically changed landscape has brought us to a crucial moment to examine current standards and treatment of unaccompanied children in the United States.

This study has been made possible by the generous support of the John & Kathleen Schreiber Foundation. 

If you currently work for or recently worked for (within the last two years) as staff, subcontractors, or other stakeholders within the ORR system, please click here to participate in the IRB study of kids in ORR care.

Advancing Research on the Nexus between Climate Change and Child Migration

Research overwhelmingly suggests that the most dramatic effects of climate change are wrought on communities already marginalized by the state, specifically ethnic minorities, indigenous communities, women and children. As it stands, children are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis on the ground, and they are generally overrepresented in the contexts of migration and displacement. The current legal regime does not provide protection for “climate refugees,” opting instead to characterize climate refugees as economic migrants and deny them protection. CHRC better understand the social science of climate impact to understand how protected groups are experiencing persecution in the form of climate inequity (dispossession of land, appropriation of resources, deracination) as patterns or practices of severe discrimination, tantamount to persecution, and worthy of protection under the Refugee Convention.

See the most recent CHRC UN Report related to Climate Inequity and Child Migration.

Advancing Protections for Survivors of Child Trafficking

The CHRC and local and national partners have observed a trend in the U.S. government denying legal protection services to children trafficked for labor. The CHRC co-leading role a first-of-its-kind, national study of child labor trafficking in the United States. For this interdisciplinary collaboration, CHRC is partnering with Northeastern University School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and New York University. The study will provide foundational information about the nature and characteristics of labor trafficking involving minors. The project will provide insights into the key service needs of this population, how this population may come into contact with first responders, including child welfare agencies and justice systems, and the degree to which existing services can assist these child victims.

Read an overview of this critical counter-trafficking efforts.

This study was made possible by support from the National Institute of Justice. 

Advancing Children’s Rights in the Time of COVID-19

The CHRC has undertaken an extensive interdisciplinary examination of the impact of COVID on the rights of children including the right to safety: life, survival and development, the right to education, the right to participation and to be heard, and the right to play.  Through outreach and advocacy, the CHRC has explored the intersectional nature of the pandemic and other systemic issues affecting children, including—especially—racism and a child’s right to enjoy these norms free from discrimination, but also including the intersectional nature of poverty, access to health care, and a child’s migration status. In his July 2021 report to the Human Rights Council on the Impact of COVID-19 on the Human Rights of Migrants, the Special Rapporteur twice cited the CHRC on issues related to COVID's impact on the safety of migrant children facing detention in the United States. 

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