The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has announced that it will activate a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to respond to the urgent humanitarian needs in Central America. The team is slated to scale up emergency food assistance, jobs programs, and protection for the most vulnerable families and communities. This news is welcome after two devastating hurricanes, the ongoing pandemic, and years of violent insecurity to citizens in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

As arrivals at our border indicate, the recent natural disasters along with years of lack of physical security have greatly impacted children and families. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken rightly noted the US needs to address the root causes that drive many people to flee their homes or to send their children seeking safety and opportunity. Children in Central America experience high rates of homicide, gender-based violence, and gang violence. As the UN Special Rapporteur for the sale of children has reported, the pandemic compounds the risks of trafficking, sexual exploitation, and abuse because of school closures and increased poverty. The hurricane also destroyed critical infrastructure for children’s healthy development, such as hospitals, schools, and sanitation systems. The damaged sanitation infrastructure has left children without clean water and sanitation, and thus more vulnerable to COVID-19. 

It is our hope that as USAID builds out its disaster response in the region, it does so in a way that makes the needs of children paramount. The Biden-Harris administration has recognized programs that support children, such as schools, are important parts of infrastructure. The DART team in Central America should build up education, youth employment programs, and child protection programs in these countries. Importantly, the administration should work with local civil society organizations, especially those with expertise in child development and trauma, who best know and understand their communities to ensure the best delivery of assistance to children and their families.