A lifeline for children

Hundreds of children die in the perilous journey across the Mediterranean
photos: unesco

With the desperate plight of refugees crossing the Mediterranean making headlines, CFAB CEO Laura Parker tells Embassy how the funds that diplomatic missions will be raising at the upcoming Spring Fair can help rescue vulnerable children

On 12 and 13 May 2015, Children and Families Across Borders (CFAB) will be hosting its annual Spring Fair at Kensington Town Hall. This is one of a series of events which this year will be particularly special as our charity celebrates its 60th anniversary.

CFAB can trace its roots back to 1855 when the London Young Women’s Institute was set up, providing accommodation for Nightingale nurses who were travelling to and from the frontline in the Crimean War.

From this grew another organisation in the 1920s – the International Migration Service, otherwise known as the International Social Service, ISS – supporting the unprecedented number of refugees who were criss-crossing countries and continents in the aftermath of World War One.

Aiding refugees
Great Britain was engaged from the start with the work of this international organisation and in 1955, International Social Service UK, ISS UK – as CFAB was known until 2009 – was formally established.

Back in 1955, ISS UK was helping the deserted wives and children of foreign servicemen who had been stationed in Britain during the war; assisting refugees from the Hungarian uprising after the Russian invasion; and aiding those fleeing Egypt after the Suez Crisis.

And so it has been for the last six decades: ISS UK, and now CFAB, helping piece back together those families torn apart by conflict.

Somali child refugees

Protecting children
As the world has shrunk – through transport and technology – our work has grown: to the casualties of wars between states have been added the victims of disputes within multi-national families. Our work has also increased along with society’s understanding of child abuse and exploitation: we know now how much lifelong damage can be inflicted upon children when they do not receive the care and protection they need, and how important it is that the most vulnerable should not also become invisible just because they cross an international border.

Through its training work with professionals around the UK, as well as managing cases, CFAB has played its part in protecting vulnerable children from traffickers and ensuring they are not left behind in increasingly complicated asylum and immigration systems.

People do ask me sometimes if it isn’t depressing working for CFAB and knowing about all of this. But it is quite the opposite, for however terrible the stories of these children’s lives may be, we know we are doing something about it.

CFAB is not a household name in the UK. Ours is a small charity but – thanks in part to our partners and friends in the international diplomatic community – we have a big reach and a history of which we should be proud.

We are now working hard to secure our future because never before have our services been so needed. There are now more children on the move worldwide due to conflict than at any time since World War Two.

More children are born into international families than at any time in history – and London is, as every diplomat based here knows, one of the most globalised cities on the planet.

Many of us have had our lives – professional and personal – enriched by the opportunities of international travel and communication. CFAB’s duty is to stand by those whom globalisation has made more vulnerable.

How diplomats can help
There are 180,000 registered charities in the UK. Over half work in some way with children; 28,000 work in health; 87,000 work in education. But CFAB is the only one which provides international child protection social work services.

Last year alone, we provided advice to some 1870 callers to our Advice Line. We helped child care professionals in the UK and overseas handle over 550 complex cases.

In order to continue this vital work, we need to raise more funds and have this year set an ambitious target of £600,000.

Whatever you can do to help us reach that – whether it is encouraging your friends to come to the Spring Fair or whether you are already part of a team organising to sell your country’s goods at the Fair – we are hugely grateful, as we are for the support of the diplomatic community over the last six decades. Thank you.