OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Empowering Children on the Move

Providing training, platforms and safe spaces for children to talk about their experiences

Photo of Jim Tomlinson
1 3

Written by

What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

There are significant numbers of children in Central America experiencing family separation when they move, making them vulnerable to trafficking, sexual abuse, exploitation and violence. Growing political hostility in Mexico and the United States has led to migrant children being denied their rights. In recent years, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have experienced a range of factors such as regional and civil war, military juntas, poverty, lack of education and job opportunities and gang violence, which fuel family separation. Vulnerable children from the region see no alternative but to start a new life in Mexico and the US. Poor job opportunities only fuel greater migration as young people move abroad to find work and then send money back to their families. More than 250,000 Guatemalans, mainly unaccompanied children and families have been apprehended at the US border since October 2018. Guatemala has long been a transit point into Mexico, but due to US pressure it has adopted a ‘safe third country’ status whereby any migrants who passed through Guatemala will be ineligible for protection in the US. Those on the move, or undocumented in Mexico and United States, are marginalised and socially isolated. They often face a harsh immigration regime, which denies them their rights, silences their voices and prevents access to social and health services. In many cases, the immigration regime forces undocumented young people into low paid work and criminal activities. Governments know that they need to stop unsafe migration, but it provides macro-economic stability to their countries, and as a result is not tackled. By giving children the platform and safe spaces to talk about their experiences, we can better inform services provided for them, provide more friendly information for those thinking about moving and engage with policy makers.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

While the principle activities will take place in the locations we working within Guatemala, Mexico and San Francisco (USA), the reach of the project also include children who are on the move from other countries such as El Salvador and Honduras and beyond who are and passing through Guatemala and Mexico.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Many children on the move are isolated and vulnerable. Our project provides a series of bridges. Firstly, help young people who are contemplating moving to better understand the risks, so they can make informed decision. Secondly, connect them with local service providers. Thirdly, build bridges with their extended kinship care family members and new peers. Finally, work with small groups of children with lived experience, supporting them to engage with service commissioners.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Common experiences included childhood poverty, exposure to violence, separation from family, dangerous and traumatic journeys, being detained, difficulty understanding English and host culture, experiencing racism and discrimination, and being undocumented. Many of this group are also under a great deal of stress and uncertainty because of their legal status. By working with them through techniques such as Photovoice and giving them the skills to be advocates, opinion formers and leaders within their peer group. The Photovoice work gives them a voice and a platform to talk about their experience as a migrant. The original evaluation of the Photovoice project has been shown to increase empowerment for participants of all ages. In the evaluation forms completed at the close of the LSC Photovoice project, every participant stated they felt their knowledge and experiences were valued by the rest of the group, and that they had gained confidence through participation in the project.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Our project gives a voice to migrant children who are often ignored or whose stories are often retold by adults. We will engage 75 migrant children establishing 3 advisory groups in Guatemala, Mexico and US. They will be trained as advocates, given safe spaces to talk about experiences, engage with policy makers and service commissioners and develop child friendly materials (via social media, radio) to inform other potential child migrants of the dangers of migration. At this stage we are not expecting wide scale systemic change, but are focused on ‘test’ areas which could be replicated in other contexts where children are forced to migrate. We would expect to see a cohort of migrant children more aware of their rights, the dangers of migrations and services they can expect to engage with on their journey. We would also expect to see the children in the groups be able to articulate what they require from service providers and to test different ways to engage stakeholders.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

In 2018, Legal Services for Children asked 10 migrant young people who were either existing or previous clients of LSC to record their experiences through a research methodology called Photovoice and found a keen desire to tell their stories to improve understanding. The project asked four simple questions 1. What was my life like before I got involved with LSC? 2. What was it like to work with LSC? 3. What is my life like now, after working with LSC? 4. What will my life be like in the future? The research provided a rich source of information on the experiences, hopes and aspirations of children who had migrated from South America to the US. PhotoVoice participants bring new insights and perspectives, which expose to viewers the issues affecting them. This initial research will be replicated in US, Mexico and Guatemala to get a richer picture of the experiences, aspirations and hopes of children at the different stages of migration (planning, on the move and settled).

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Our primary community are children, migrating from / through Guatemala and Mexico to the USA. Children in the three stages (contemplating, traveling, reaching their destination) of migration each have different needs, hopes, dreams and fears. The migration routes across this area are fraught with danger, including trafficking, gang violence, sexual exploitation, etc. Many of them of unaccompanied or travelling as groups of children, hoping to be united with family members in other countries. From our Photovoice project we know their needs and aspirations change as they make their journey and so our project reflects this by breaking the groups down into sub groups depending on where they are in that journey. Even at difficult stages within this process they are still optimistic, resilient and have hopes about their future life.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

- The direct voice of experience is very powerful. Often adults own these spaces and childrens voices are lost or retold by adults. Something that is important to the child might be lost because the adult does not think it is significant. Having children speak directly about their experience would be a powerful platform in telling a story, but also engaging with stakeholders such as policy makers, service commissioners, service providers. - Children listen to their peers. This project seeks to empower those thinking about migrating by making them more aware of the pitfalls and dangers. Safer migration can be achieved if children are better informed by others experience. - There may be a therapeutic benefit of giving testimony and help to move on. - In the US, Mexico and now Guatemala immigration policy has largely been hostile. We want to give child migrants the opportunity to talk about what they want - better education, be safe, be with their family, have opportunity.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

Our partners are Legal Services for Children in USA, who began serving child immigrants following the passage of the Immigration Act of 1990. They provide legal and social work to migrant children in San Francisco. Fundación JUCONI México works with children who live and work on the street and their families. They provide education and support opportunities for 15-19-year-olds migrants. CONACMI in Guatemala, focus on the prevention of violence against children and young people; particularly those who are victims of sexual abuse. This year they have joined a national network of organizations focussed on supporting child migrants and engaged in research.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Being on the move, crossing borders, and/or temporarily settled

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Channel: A new way to deliver existing products or services to customers or end users

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototype: We have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Group or Organization Name

Family for Every Child

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Family for Every Child is a global alliance of civil society organizations with a unique understanding of the challenges of children and families in their communities. Our vision is a world where every child can grow up in a permanent, safe and caring family. We mobilize knowledge, skills and resources through our network. We also support temporary, quality alternative care where needed. In five years from now we expect to have supported thousands of children and caregivers around the world to live together in harmonious families and be able to influence the decisions that affect their lives. Our Children on the Move Working Group brings together CSO's working across the globe in each of their country contexts. Sub groups include a focus on children on the move from Latin America, children in Africa and children fleeing conflict and moving to Europe. Each member of the group provides specialist support to child migrants.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

United Kingdon

Organization Headquarters: City / State


1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Bremley Lyngdoh

Hi Jim Tomlinson  great to have your idea on the platform for the challenge. It's exciting and I really like your idea. It will be exciting for your to check out other ideas on the platform, provide some feedback and explore potential areas of collaboration with them. For example check out