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Protecting children during the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone

The outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease was declared a national health crisis by the President of Sierra Leone in July 2014, resulting in the 3,565 confirmed deaths, the suspension of social and economic activities, closure of schools, and widespread impact on the national health system as services were diverted to respond to the Ebola outbreak.

As Family Tracing and Reunification lead, Plan International Sierra Leone has supported the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs (MSWGCA) to identify children who were unaccompanied or separated from their families as a result of the Ebola outbreak and either reunify them with family members or place them in appropriate interim or alternative care arrangements. In Moyamba and Port Loko, we assisted the Ministry to provide comprehensive support to 454 separated or unaccompanied children and successfully reunify 234 children with their biological or extended families. In cases where affected children weren’t able or willing to return to their biological families or for whom tracing efforts are ongoing, we have provided material and financial support to 443 foster families (formal and informal) to promote family-based care arrangements and to interim care centers  in Port Loko and Kailahun to support children for whom family-based care was not available.

In response to escalating threats to children’s survival, development, and protection as a result of the outbreak, Plan International established case management teams in Moyamba and Port Loko to support MSWGCA in responding to protection alerts received by Ministry-led Protection Desks at District Ebola Response Centers. We trained 21 national governement social workers, 4 district social welfare officers, and 350 child welfare workers (including national organizations and other service providers) in Moyamba, Port Loko, and Kailahun on child protection in emergencies, family tracing and reuniting and case management, in line with national guidelines. As a member of the Child Protection Case Management Steering Committee, we also supported MSWGCA and UNICEF to pilot case management tools in Moyamba in advance of the national launch of the child protection information management system.

At the local level, we focused on efforts to strengthen community-based child protection mechanisms to improve the sustainability of interventions and enhance the overall protective environment for children. In Port Loko, Moyamba and Kailahun Districts, Plan International conducted mappings of functional Child Welfare Committees, reactivating and training 350 CWCs and equipping them with logistic and technical support to prevent, identify, and respond to child protection concerns, including providing appropriate service referrals and follow-up during and after the Ebola outbreak.