The Restavec Freedom Alliance, BEM Inc. leadership and board have created a very extensive and thorough manaul dealing with the treatment of the children in our program. The manual was adapted with permission from Free The Slaves. If you have any questions or would like some more information about this manual please contact us.

Free the Slaves was formed in 2000 to end slavery worldwide. We believe that ending slavery is an ambitious, and realizable, goal. Free the Slaves liberates slaves around the world, helps them rebuild their lives and researches real world solutions to eradicate slavery forever. We use world class research and compelling stories from the frontlines of slavery to convince the powerful and the powerless that we can end slavery. Free the Slaves works on the ground with liberators around the world. We do what it takes to free men, women and children and help them stay free. Basic needs for food, shelter and safety from angry slave owners must be met. Then the system that allows slavery to flourish has to be dismantled and another created by former slaves learning to live in freedom.


Defining slavery
Slaves are people who are forced to work without pay (or getting only enough to survive), for someone else’s profit, and completely controlled by violence or the threat of violence.
Slavery takes many forms, including child labor and the Restavek system.

Slavery affects people differently, depending in part on their age, how long they are in slavery, and how badly they are treated. But all slaves have had their basic human rights taken away by lies and violence, and have suffered great harm.

Today, all forms of slavery have three other things in common:

  • slaves do not cost much
  • slaveholders (the people who use slaves) only plan to keep them for as long as they are useful to them
  • slaves are trafficked (traded) among many countries and are working in almost all

After Restavec, what next?
No one should be living in slavery. It is time to end this terrible custom.

All children have the right to live in freedom.
They need time to recover in a helpful environment, and they need to get their feet under them before they can start life again. Rehabilitation is a long process that helps a former restavec find his or her mental balance again and become part of a group.

Working to end slavery
Our children have learned to survive in terrible conditions, to work extremely hard, and to keep on going through pain and illness. But they have also been very deeply damaged in many ways. They especially have not had the conditions for normal growth and psychosocial development (developing their own abilities of thinking, feeling and being part of a group.) Rebuilding the lives of children means empowering them, helping them to find their own abilities and strength. It also requires that we heal their physical and emotional wounds as far as possible. But the terrible effects of slavery on victims can never be fully undone.

Ending the cultural condition of Restavek completely is our goal.

How children get out of the Restavec condition affects how they feel and how quickly they can rebuild their lives.

Children take action to escape
When children participate in escaping, a process of deep change begins even before they become free. When children decide not to accept the control of a slaveholder any longer, they begin to become empowered (finding their own abilities and strength). When a whole group of people struggle against their fear and act together to become free, they depend on each other. That trust in each other helps them to survive in freedom. Our home consists of children who are searching for freedom.

A few strong people escape from Restavek by themselves. They become empowered to act, and manage to find their own way to freedom. But escapes alone and without help are usually prevented by depression, lack of energy, and many fears — of violence, of being lost in a strange place, without food or anywhere to hide, being ill, in pain, and dying. These risks are real.

Restavek children often have become depressed and passive (psychologically unable to take action). This is a natural result after years of living under the violent control of others.

Fear and terror
The Patron families often tell the child Restavek that outsiders will harm them. Because most slaves are very strongly controlled by the slaveholders, only a few individuals can get them away.

Buying slaves to set them free
In paying for a person, the buyer is acting to keep a market system going. Paying slaveholders increases the risk that more people will be trafficked. Outsiders should not use this way of rescuing slaves. We do not use this method.

Buying slaves in order to free them encourages trafficking.
Where corruption is common, families may feel that the only way to rescue a child is to pay the slaveholder. A child’s parents should not be blamed for paying money. They need understanding. When officials accept slavery and fail to act against it, the tragic need for families to buy back their own children is a result. Action is necessary to change the system that traps people into slavery.

Keeping records
Keep a record for each child. When a child comes into the home, learn what you can, and write it in his or her record. You will add more when you have assessed the child’s condition (learned more through observing, listening with attention, and considering his or her condition.)

To learn from children, in the first interview:

  • be warm and sympathetic
  • ask questions gently
  • let the child take time to answer, or not, as s/he wishes
  • do not make the child feel shame (a feeling of having done something terrible and being blamed by oneself and others)
  • try not to retraumatize (harming a child by forcing him or her to remember and live through the pain, shame and fear of past experiences again)

Be very careful. Unless you are a trained professional counselor (someone specially trained in mental health who can help people with their emotions) do not ask children about sexual experiences or other terrible violence. Such questions can retraumatize the child.

You can give healing care without knowing how a child was exploited.
Children who are not ready to talk should be given time – perhaps days or weeks. They need to become used to the home and to develop trust in its staff. Give special attention to what children say when they go beyond answering questions.

Outline of a client’s record:

Early information, such as

  • full name
  • area or place that they came from
  • where the client worked as a restavek and what s/he was doing
  • what the Patron family had promised
  • how the Patron family treated the child

Assessment and care, such as

  • information on health and nutrition (how food affects health)
  • psychosocial assessment, recommendations (what should be done), and progress notes
  • education and training needs, and how they are being met

Notes on other subjects, such as

  • the child’s own needs and wants, for the present and for the future
  • the child’s skills and what s/he enjoys learning
  • anything that is being done to help the child, such as help from lawyers (professionals in the practice of law) getting
  • official papers

Guardians for children
A person under 18 years old has a right to a long-term guardian (an advocate who works for and speaks for a child). This can be a member of the home or another responsible person such as our Executive Director. The guardian makes sure that decisions and actions are in the child’s best interests (what is best for the child at present and in the future

The responsibilities of a guardian

  • To be sure that all matters are decided in the child’s best interests
  • To be sure that the child Restavec has the right kind of care, place to stay, health care,
  • psychosocial support, education and language support
  • To be sure that the child victim has legal and other advocates where necessary
  • To talk with, advise and give the child victim information on his/her rights
  • To be part of finding a durable solution in the child’s best interests
  • To provide a link between the child victim and different organizations that may
  • provide services to the child

*A durable solution is a long-term plan for the child, giving the child the best chance of a good future life. Helping staff to deal with emotions Rehabilitating Restavek children may be unlike anything that staff members have done before. It is not easy to work day after day with children who are depressed, feeling
anxiety (worries and fears) and experiencing many other emotions. Children can be holding a lot of anger from their experiences in slavery. They may become very angry at staff members or at anyone who seems to have power. They may act out (express their feelings by doing things that cause trouble in the group).
Or they may simply not join in anything that other clients are doing.

Staff members have their own emotions. They may sometimes look down upon children who were sexually exploited. Some may discriminate against (treat unequally and badly) people from a different place. Discrimination prevents a child from trusting the staff.

Train staff to give every child equal respect and care.

Whenever possible, provide staff with training that helps them understand their children better. Discuss about how to treat all children gently. Give staff members chances to talk about their own feelings and difficulties. To help staff members learn how to deal with anger, depression, and other common problems, use role plays (short exercises in which people act like someone else). When a child is so angry and violent that s/he is putting other children or staff in danger, get help from a trained professional counselor. It is possible that the child needs a kind of psychological care that the program cannot provide.

Protection against abuse

A policy against exploitation and abuse for all staff, volunteers and visitors of our program:

  • Rehabilitation staff and all others should never physically, sexually or emotionally abuse any client in any manner.
  • Staff and others must respect and protect the rights of children.
  • The program has a system to prevent abuse, and to report abuse by children and by staff members.
  • The program has a system to be sure the right kind of action is taken if abuse happens.

Each rehabilitation staff member is responsible to make sure that their own behavior and that of all others follows an agreed Code of Conduct.

Staff members have some power, and children may feel that they have little or no power. This means that a risk of exploitation and abuse exists in any rehabilitation program. Abuse includes:

  • physical injury
  • sexual actions or comments with a child
  • emotional injury including damaging comments and discrimination
  • threats to a child
  • neglect (not doing what is needed, and so causing harm)
  • failing to protect a child from danger or illness

Former Restavek slaves may be retraumatized by any experience of abuse. Have a written
policy that protects all children against abuse in the rehabilitation program. Be sure that all staff members understand the policy well – including staff who cannot read.

Agree on a code of conduct
Have a written code of conduct (list of behaviors) that is based on the policy. This code says exactly and clearly what is permitted or not permitted in the program. Staff members need to agree on these clear rules of behavior. Others such as teachers, lawyers, and volunteers who work with our children also need to know the code of conduct.

Following a clear agreed code of conduct protects everyone.
Dismiss any staff member who violates the policy and code of conduct. Consider taking legal action against any person who uses his or her power to exploit children.

Protect children from each other if necessary
Children are vulnerable (at high risk of harm) when a program is not well controlled. Even when staff themselves follows the code of conduct and are careful to treat everyone equally, some children may discriminate against others. Older or stronger children may expect to make younger or weaker ones obey them by bullying (violent abuse and control of weaker children by stronger ones).

To protect everyone:

  • Teach all children to treat others with respect.
  • Do not allow violence or verbal abuse (strong words or comments that cause fear, shame and anger).
  • Do not allow bullying.

If a child starts to bully others, be alert and separate them. Talk quietly with each child. With staff members, discuss how to teach the bullying child more self control, without ever permitting him or her to harm others.

Code of Conduct
What to do


  • Affirm the dignity of children, listening to them and valuing them even where society generally might not do so on account of their age, gender, class, ethnic group, or past history.
  • Treat all children as equal in their human rights, and prevent any exploitation.
  • Become aware of potential abuse by listening to children, asking them about their interactions with rehabilitation staff, other workers, and other children.
  • Inform children of their right to be free from abuse and exploitation.
  • Describe physical, sexual and emotional abuse so they can recognize it, including inappropriate behavior that would lead toward abuse.
  • Encourage rehabilitation staff and children to report any abuse and inappropriate behavior, by explaining whom they should talk to
  • Tell children of their right to confidentiality* and how they will be protected from any retaliation.
  • Support anyone who reports abuse, investigate without delay and take decisive action to eliminate it and prevent it happening again.
  • Organize and plan workplace spaces and activities to minimize risks of activities that could contribute to exploitation and abuse between rehabilitation staff and children, or among children themselves.
  • Balance the privacy needed for one-on-one counseling with the need to have some openness to the sight of others.
  • Use touch to reassure and comfort only as culturally approved, usually only between rehabilitation staff and children of the same gender.
  • Provide warm attention to all children, demonstrating daily that each one is valued.
  • Ensure (be sure) that no child will be endangered or stigmatized by publication of their picture or story, and request their specific permission to use it.
  • Respect a child’s decision not to be interviewed or photographed.

What not to do

  • Do not hit or otherwise physically abuse children.
  • Do not exclude children from the group as punishment
  • Do not force them to take part in any activities, including religious observances.
  • Do not use touch or physical one-on-one contact that could lead toward sexual or exploitative relations with a child.
  • Do not use language or gestures that are inappropriate, sexually suggestive, humiliating or offensive. Do not respond
  • to such language or gestures if used by children.
  • Do not threaten a child or place them in a risky situation.
  • Do not spend time alone and out of sight with a child, or share a bed or room with them.
  • Do not provide personal care for children that they can do for themselves.
  • Do not have favorites, give extra privileges to some children, or exclude some.
  • Do not make promises to children that you will not fulfill.

Shared space

  • Do all that is possible to have
  • good light
  • enough heat or coolness, and fresh air
  • a bed or sleeping area for each child
  • clean washrooms and toilets

Our home exists to give our children the new taste of freedom.
For normal development, children must have space to play. Both boys and girls need to climb, run, jump and move freely, to play games, sing, and dance and make noise, to use their hands for catching and throwing, drawing and making things. Play also helps children to develop their language and thinking skills. Provide girls and boys with as much space as possible to move freely and play. Help children to make the home their own. Provide places where they can show their handcrafts (things made by hand), or put up their pictures on the walls.


Treat sickness and injuries
As soon as possible, look for sickness and injuries, and treat them. Write the information in the child’s record, with a note if more treatment is needed. Before a new child has a complete physical examination, wait a few days. S/he needs to become calmer and start to trust the staff.

For children under age 12, if possible give an immediate immunization (an injection that protects against a disease) against measles (a serious disease of children). In a group, measles can quickly spread and be very serious. Consider whether this risk is important enough for you to do something to new children that they will not like.

Help children to keep clean

  • Keep the home itself clean, and provide what children need.
  • soap and water for washing themselves
  • appropriate toilets
  • a way to wash hands after using toilets and before meals
  • a way to wash and dry dishes and cooking utensils
  • clean bedding (mattresses or mats, sheets, blankets)
  • monthly supplies for young women

Slaves often were not able keep clean as they would like. When youths (aged 14 to 17) have toilets and washing water, they are likely to use them well. If necessary, show children how to keep clean, now that they have soap and water.

Some children may wet their beds, because in slavery there was nothing else they could do safely. Anxiety, sadness, and fear are connected to bedwetting. Children have those feelings from their experiences, and may continue to wet their beds for a long time. Give kindness and understanding to children who wet their beds. Do not make any child feel shame, or that s/he is bad. Quietly give the child clean bedding. Wake the child up and take him or her to the toilet at night before going to bed oneself.

If it is possible, provide clean clothes. New clothes can help children to feel cared for, and to know that they are starting a new life. But do not take away anything that they value. Favorite shirts or caps, or all of their usual clothes, may be important to children who have nothing else of their own.


Plan a physical examination
The child will need a physical examination by a doctor. Explain that a friendly person can stay with the child if s/he wishes the child does not have to take off lothes unless s/he agrees the child can stop the examination at any time.

If the child is very anxious (full of anxiety), put off the examination until s/he feels safe enough to agree. If possible, choose doctors who are gentle and show respect for all children. They help to make a child feel safe, and will also learn more from the child. Girls and women usually prefer a female doctor. During medical tests and treatments, male health workers sometimes touch or talk to vulnerable girls in ways that shame or frighten them. This must not happen to our children. Provide a friendly woman to be with each child during medical care, unless the child wants to be alone.

Physical problems to look for in freed slaves

  • Be sure that the doctor finds and records problems that are connected to slavery.
  • injuries from beatings, bruises, broken bones
  • cuts, burns, rashes
  • headaches, dizziness, fainting
  • stomach problems, pain in the abdomen, vomiting, diarrhea
  • breathing problems, TB (tuberculosis) and other infections, pains in the chest
  • general pain and weakness, being tired or sleepy all the time, conditions caused by very poor diets
  • strains and back pains, bent body shape due to long time spent in one position
  • repetitive motion injuries (harm from doing the same action again and again)
  • poisoning by chemicals or pesticides(chemicals used to kill insects)

The doctor’s statement for the child’s record should

  • list all physical problems
  • sign the report
  • describe immediate treatment
  • suggest future treatment plans
  • This evidence will be needed in any prosecution (court process against someone accused of a crime) against a slaveholder.

Wherever possible, only a trained professional counselor should talk with children about sexual experiences – and only as much as the child chooses.

Check eyesight, hearing and teeth

Working to small objects in poor light causes eye problems. Any child may not be seeing clearly, or have bad headaches that are connected to eye problems. Untreated ear infections, noise in factories, and beatings around the head can cause loss of hearing. Children may have mouth injuries and bad teeth.
Have appropriate professionals examine children for:

  • eye problems and how well they can see
  • ear and hearing problems
  • problems with their teeth, or pain when eating
  • Record problems in the child’s file, and provide treatment.

Age and development of children
Most children will not know exactly how old they are. Keep in mind that many enslaved children are very short for their age. To estimate age, a child’s motor development (what s/he can do with his or her body, arms, legs and hands) may help. Do not use tests of language and understanding to estimate childrens’ age. After being locked up in slavery, they will not speak or think as well as free children of their age. During rehabilitation, they will start to catch up in speaking and thinking. Most children get their second permanent back teeth at about 12 years old. If a child does not have all four of the second back teeth, probably s/he is not yet 14 years old. And even if a child does have all four of these teeth, s/he may still be less than 14 years old.

If you cannot learn a child’s real age, try to estimate it fairly.

Children probably have not had immunizations. Immunize all children against measles, if this was not done immediately, and give BCG vaccine against tuberculosis. Provide other immunizations as recommended by the national health system.


As children make progress in rehabilitation, give them lots of experience in the domestic skills of keeping a home and its environment clean. Teach healthy practices to everyone, including men and boys, not only to girls and women.

Children who were domestic servants may be able to teach others who did not have their experience. Staff of a home can teach good practices (what people really do).

Skills for daily life:
A clean home

  • Give all children, males and females, experience in being responsible to
  • put things in order
  • clean rooms and outdoor spaces
  • wash and dry clothes and bedding
  • clean toilets,
  • get rid of human wastes in other ways (where homes lack toilets)
  • get rid of trash, including recycling (using materials again)

Home health
Children and youths will have their own families in a few years. This may be their best chance of health education. In many communities, boys and men do not get information from public health services, because only women go there. If clients are youths (children from 14 through 17 years old) discuss family planning and STDs. Choose a trusted staff member or health worker of the clients’ own gender. Methods of family planning that are acceptable to all religious traditions now exist. Consult local health workers to learn what methods are used. Invite childrens’ questions. Correct any mistaken beliefs that are dangerous to health.

Community health services
Teach what a health service should do for a community

  • be open often, and be staffed with trained health workers
  • give quick care at any time after accidents
  • provide family planning methods that people can accept
  • give care to pregnant women so their babies will be healthy
  • give children immunizations against common diseases
  • provide treatment for sickness

Discuss when it is helpful to

  • buy pills and medicines in the market
  • use traditional medicines (herbs, teas, etc.)
  • get help from a traditional healer (ayurvedic physician, bonesetter, massage woman, healer who uses local plants,traditional birth attendant, etc.)

Discuss when it is dangerous to

  • buy pills and medicines in the market
  • get injections from someone who is not a doctor
  • use treatments that cause harm
  • wait too long to get professional help for a sick person

Provide a good simple diet
Estimate the food that each child needs each day:

  • 400 g (weight before cooking) of grains (such as rice, millet, maize, wheat)
  • 40 g of fatty food giving plenty of energy (such as oil, groundnut butter, shea butter)
  • 50 g (weight before cooking) of food giving plenty of protein (such as beans, lentils, chickpeas).

Protein is necessary to build bodies and give strength. Children need less of the grain foods and need fatty foods that give plenty of energy, as well as food giving plenty of protein.

When possible, every day provide some food from animals – eggs, milk products, meat, chicken or fish. These are high in protein.

Build health with other good foods
Whenever possible, add

  • dark green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, wild greens, collards)
  • red, orange and yellow vegetables (such as tomatoes, carrots, pumpkins)
  • any other vegetables (such as onions, cucumbers, potatoes, okra)
  • fruits
  • the spices that our children like (such as chilies, cumin, mustard)
  • Use only iodized salt.
  • Continue to be sure that clean water is always available for drinking. Hot drinks are part of many traditions, but not
  • usually necessary for health and growth.
  • Bottles of soda, fruit squashes, sweet cakes and candies do not build health. Between meals or on special days, a
  • home can offer traditional foods without sugar such as
  • roasted nuts
  • roasted or boiled maize
  • fried bean cakes and samosas
  • cassava chips
  • fruits

Watch the growth of children
With more food, children may become taller. But the change is slow, and they may always remain short. You will see changes in weight more quickly. Record them. Be careful that sad children do not refuse to eat for a long time, and so lose weight. Children who are sick need to eat, but often they do not want to eat much for a few days. Give them extra food as they recover, so they will get back the lost weight.

Signs of lack of micronutrients

Sign of a Problem – Probably needed

  • extreme tiredness; tongue and inside eyelids pale – iron-folate (pills)
  • difficulty seeing at night, foamy pale spots on eye – vitamin A (capsules)
  • back and other body pains, never being in sunlight – more sunlight

Teach rights to food
Slaveholders use anxiety about food to control what children do. In our home, be sure that everyone gets the food and water that they need

Teach children that everyone has a basic right to food and water.

  • Give everyone a fair share.
  • Give the same food to everyone – males, females, visitors, all levels of staff –unless someone needs a special diet. Find other ways to show respect to visitors, instead of giving them extra or special food.
  • Do not take away food to punish someone.

Everyone has the same right to food.

How a person thinks and feels, and how s/he is a part of groups of other people combine to make up his or her psychosocial experience. Former Restavek’s can have serious and complex psychosocial problems. In a perfect world, rehabilitation programs would include mental health professionals who could help children through counseling.

Counseling includes:

  • listening to a child express his or her experiences and emotions,
  • accepting all that s/he feels, without judging or criticizing,
  • showing care and understanding, and
  • helping the child toward more self-confidence and a sense of self (knowing oneself as a person).

But often mental health professionals are not available to do counseling. People who are not professionals can help mostly by active listening:

  • allowing a child to speak and express feelings in his or her own way
  • listening with complete attention
  • showing that you understand, by body language and small sounds, and
  • not giving opinions or advising.

Staff members also need to know some ways to assess newcomers (to form an idea of their psychosocial condition through observing and listening to them with attention). Assessing children permits staff members to plan the care that each one needs. This may include a need for professional mental health help. Needs differ from one child to another. The age and gender of the children, the form of Restavec and how long it went on, their relations with the Patron family, their experience of violence, how they got out of slavery and many other things will affect their needs for psychosocial care.


Newcomers are beginning a long process of learning to feel safe. It is most important in the first days to

  • give a warm welcome
  • establish safety
  • let the newcomer know what to expect
  • provide food and water, health care, and rest
  • keep children together with others from similar situations

Slavery that was longer, lonelier, and more severe usually has worse psychosocial effects on the victims.

Sexually exploited children need mental health professionals

Children coming out of prostitution are a minority among the total number of children in slavery. But they need special consideration. They have deep psychological and social problems that the rehabilitation program must deal with carefully. There are very risky areas in dealing with these children that are not as common in children removed from other situations of slavery.

Should organizations without professional mental health training and experience attempt their rehabilitation? They should not, because the behavior problems and the trauma, as well as stigmatization and sometimes violence upon reintegration, are often too severe. Helping appropriately requires specialized counseling and social work skills. For example, inviting children who were sexually exploited to express emotions is a definite no-no for anyone who is not a fully trained professional. It is easy to get the emotions out. But after they are out, it may take far more skill, understanding and experience to help the client deal with those expressed emotions. At the same time, these human resources don’t drop off the trees to us. Few organizations have such highly trained professional staff. Active listening and showing care and understanding are not counseling. They can surely be done by anyone. We must give care as best we can, without fear.

Assess newcomers
When newcomers arrive, staff begins to assess their condition and needs. This is especially important with children. The staff may do an intake interview (quiet talk with a new child about his or her experiences, problems, needs and wishes). Explain why you are gathering information, and do not hurry or put pressure on the child. Children often cannot give the information needed for their record.

Do not urge anyone to talk more than they want to. Allow time for trust to develop.
Remembering pain, fear and shame may become terrible, and retraumatize the newcomer. If any interview becomes too difficult for the child, offer to wait until another time.

Suggestions for interviewing a child
Children will react in different ways. Try more than one way to gain their trust, and see what makes them comfortable (feeling warmly accepted, at ease, not having anxiety).
In order to get the fullest answers, make a child as comfortable as possible before inviting him or her to speak. Use a gentle, calm, soft voice. Sit down with your head at the level of the child’s head, not above it. Do not hurry or urge the child to talk. Try doing something that does not need any words from the child. You could show a picture book, or show how something works. Or you could explain a little about other children and their experience in the home. Take time. Some children have a lot of fear and shame. These emotions keep them quiet, and they may not speak in the first chat. You may need to wait until another time, even for weeks, before a child is ready to speak freely. Usually asking a series of questions does not help people to express themselves. When the child is comfortable and feels safe, s/he may tell you a lot without your having to ask many questions. Use active listening to show that you are paying attention and understanding what you hear. If you must ask questions, give the child a way of understanding why you are asking them. For example, you can say:

“Sometimes children who come to the home tell me how they feel.
Putting their feelings in words helps them to feel better.
That’s why I am asking you about yourself.”

Invite the child to talk by explaining some of the things that other children have told
you. (Do not name those children.) Say that you wonder if the same sort of things
are also true for the child you are talking with.

“Last week a boy told me he is afraid at night.
He has bad dreams about what happened to him.
I wonder if sometimes it is like that for you….”

If the child asks questions, answer them honestly. After the interview, write down as many notes as possible. These should go into the child’s confidential record. It is helpful to read the notes before the next interview or quiet talk with a child.

Psychosocial conditions to look for in newcomers
The psychological condition of a child could include

  • levels of fear, anxiety, sadness, anger, shame, and other emotions
  • whether s/he is agitated (not able to be quiet, moving all the time, shaking, reacting very
  • suddenly, very anxious)
  • whether s/he is very inhibited (very silent, closed in, not able to express any feelings)
  • problems with paying attention
  • problems with bad memories being always present, often in dreams
  • speaking that is disorganized (not making sense, out of order, mixed up)

Social situations will also show how the child relates to (connects with) other people.

  • relating to others very slowly, or perhaps not at all
  • being full of fear and anxiety with other people
  • using force, angry words or bullying
  • seeking too much touch in ways that are not appropriate

If they do not agree with someone, they may not know any way to respond except by violence. If fighting helped children to survive in slavery, they may also expect to fight in a our home.

Understand the experiences that make some children difficult, acting out their anger
and fear. You may need to set limits on any behavior or expression of feelings that
is not good for the newcomer or for the other children.

Case management planning
As soon as possible, hold a meeting of the staff who are important for this child. In this meeting
discuss what staff members have learned by paying attention, observing, and listening to the child
decide which of a child’s psychosocial problems are most important
exchange ideas, and develop a plan for the child’s care in the coming weeks
write it down with the names of the staff members who are responsible for each part of the plan

For example:
Therese (the child) has stomach pains. She also suffers from a lot of shame and anxiety, and is very agitated. But she is not fighting, trying to run away, or threatening to harm herself.

Mary, the teacher, will take her to a doctor this week to have the stomach pains assessed and treated. Mary will stay with her all through that experience.

Jedidah, the house mother, will find calming activities for Therese to try. She will ask Mariam, one of the more settled children, to stay near her for a few days.

Savitri, an older child, will find time to sit with Therese every day in these next two weeks and talk quietly with her, using active listening.

Everyone will pay attention to Therese for two weeks and consider how she is doing. Then we will decide whether we need to get help for her from a mental health professional.



Continue active listening
Provide quiet times for actively listening to each child. Find a space that is private, but not completely away from everyone.

A center in Togo uses a small open building for private counseling. Grass mats hang around the sides, but the child can see out.
Other people can see that someone is talking inside there. But they cannot watch and cannot hear what is being said. (Hyde, “Physical and Mental Health”)

All staff members can learn to do active listening.
If you want children to talk freely, avoid asking questions that can be answered with yes, no, or just one word. Use open questions (questions that encourage a person to talk freely and give him/her more control over what s/he talks about). Usually open questions are not questions about facts and do not have correct answers. They are like gentle invitations to speak, such as:

  • How was it for you when you were there?
  • What happened after that?
  • Why do you think that happened?
  • I’d like you to tell me more, if you want to.
  • How do you feel about being with us here?

Accept whatever the child says. If you think it is wrong, do not say so. Avoid giving advice or criticisms. The basic (very necessary) aim is to listen to the child.

Feeling listened to and understood is basic in any process of healing.
But if the child says things that are wrong about himself or others, you can gently give correct information.
For example:
Child: They all hate me, because I’m different. They don’t talk to me.
Staff member: Yesterday I saw Yolanda and Jyoti ask you to play a game with them.
And did I hear Salmah say something good to you today about the new food?

If a child starts to cry, remember that s/he has a lifetime of pain inside. Being able to express emotions may be part of the healing process. A child does not need to feel shame about crying. The active listener lets the child cry, and quietly stays with him or her.

Active listening is to help the child, not to seek facts. But child stories will come out, little by little in their own words. Later, make a note of any new facts and evidence about what they experienced in their confidential records.

Overall psychosocial aims
Create a healing environment for child.

  • Most children need to develop
  • trust in other people
  • self-confidence
  • a sense of self
  • a feeling that they have personal power and control

Many children also need help in

  • learning how to relate to other people
  • understanding their own feelings and problems

Some children will understand their difficult feelings better when they can name them. They think more clearly when they can use words such as anger, sadness, anxiety, being agitated, not relating to other people, being afraid, or going out of control. Talking and being listened to may be helpful, but it also brings up painful memories. If you need to end a meeting but the child is still full of strong feelings, take a few minutes. Help the child to put away the pain of the past for now, and come back into the present time. Very simple methods of calming emotions can be tried, like breathing deeply, or counting from ten to one.

When people are deeply traumatized, be careful not to go too far into feelings that the child is not ready and able to deal with. For girls traumatized by sexual exploitation, staff without professional training should not try to give counseling.

Be careful not to retraumatize any child.

Trauma is a psychological condition coming from terrible experiences that people see as a threat to their lives. Most Restavek children experienced violence, were threatened with violence, and saw violence against others. Other common causes of trauma are severe hunger, serious abuse as a child, sexual abuse such as rape, serious injuries, being abducted (suddenly and secretly taken away with violence).

Not all people who go through terrible experiences show signs of trauma. But many do, especially after repeated and long-term traumatic experiences. Among our children, signs of trauma will appear in their feelings, behavior and mental and physical health. They are listed here in groups, but any of these can appear at any time, and many of them can appear together.

Signs of trauma to watch for in children
At first, children may

  • be very anxious, worried about danger all the time
  • have flashbacks (memories and feelings that keep coming back to someone, making them live through past terrible
  • experiences and trauma again)
  • be agitated, too active, very restless
  • have frightening dreams and difficulty sleeping,
  • show very sudden changes in emotions (loud, strong anger, or sudden crying)
  • feel great shame
  • feel that they have no value, believe that they are “nothing”

A little later, children may

  • suffer panic attacks (sudden extreme fear), anxiety, phobias (severe fears of particular things such as going outside,
  • or animals, or high places)
  • experience mental emptiness
  • show avoidant behavior (ways of acting that prevent a person from relating to others because s/he is protecting
  • himself or herself)
  • have no feeling of connection to the world
  • seek dangerous situations
  • completely forget the past and who they are, or forget many things
  • not be able to connect with and relate to others
  • fear death or fear they will have only a short life

Severe signs of trauma take longer to develop and are more and more complex.

  • Severely traumatized children may
  • almost never talk, not look at other people, or hide away in fear
  • react to other people and situations with very little feeling or emotion
  • be very tired all the time
  • have health problems of the immune system, be sick very often
  • experience pain that continues on and on
  • have problems with their digestive system
  • suffer from depression (silence, passive behavior, not being able to act, not being able to relate well to others, very deep sadness)

Red flags: signs that professional help is urgently needed
For children who show signs of severe or increasing problems, do all that is possible to

  • find a mental health professional and get the child into their care. Professional help is urgent when a child
  • seems to be getting worse in some way, such as continuing to lose weight, becoming more disorganized in speech,
  • thinking or behavior, becoming more depressed, silent and passive, seeming almost to freeze
  • talks about killing himself or herself
  • is harming himself or herself
  • has strong anger that s/he cannot control
  • seems not to connect with real life, hears voices or sees things that are not there
  • uses physical force and verbal abuse to hurt others

Delays are dangerous. Urgent professional care saves lives.

How a professional helps a traumatized person

Counseling children who are suffering from severe trauma is a special skill. Do whatever is possible to find a mental health professional who will work with the traumatized child. The professional will:

  • make the child feel safe
  • develop a connection of care and understanding
  • help the child become able to trust
  • decrease the child’s feeling of being passive and having no control
  • work with a child’s anger and other strong emotions
  • lead the child to understand himself or herself better
  • help the child to develop self-confidence and a sense of self
  • help the child to value himself or herself and have a sense of personal power

Group discussions
For older children who are not suffering from severe emotional problems, organize group meetings. In these meetings, children share their ideas and feelings. Half an hour to 45 minutes is usually plenty. A staff member leads the group, to make sure that it is helpful to the children. Good group discussions can build children’s’ self-confidence and their trust in others. The aim is to help children to feel better, so they can go forward with their lives.

Group counseling is not a class or teaching session. The children do most of the talking. A skilled leader asks only enough questions to keep the discussion active and going in a good direction.

The leader works hard. S/he

  • starts the discussion
  • keeps it from going too far away from the subject
  • may make some rules, such as “No telling people what to do” or “No criticizing”
  • gives everyone a chance to speak
  • keeps everyone feeling safe and able to speak freely
  • gives comments on how members of the group are relating to each other

In good group discussions, the children talk a lot and the leader talks much less.

Two advantages of group discussions are that they include more children and increase their social skills. Everyone in a group can be a helper as well as the receiver of help, which improves the way they value themselves.

Group sessions, reported by nearly all programs [in Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Haiti and India] may be a more powerful form of therapy than individual counseling because the stories of others’ experiences serve to diminish the sense of isolation, reduce the stigma attached to low status and enslavement, and provide perspective. In the group, children are also encouraged to think of ways to prevent child abuse and enslavement, such as reporting suspected traffickers to the police. Children develop ties to one another through this process, which adds to their feeling of belonging, security and support. (Hyde, “Physical and Mental Health”)

Some groups plan the subjects they will talk about. The children may choose the subjects, or the leader may decide.

Other groups do not have a fixed subject for a meeting. Instead, everyone says

  • what is on their mind
  • how they are feeling
  • what problems they are struggling with

Other group members may listen with attention and give support. They may also make suggestions, if the leader thinks such comments will be useful to that group.

Good effects of other groups
Other kinds of groups can provide a time and place for children to be together in good relationships, to learn new ideas and skills, and to know that they belong. Belonging to community groups may be especially important. Aims of such groups include education, service, and cultural or spiritual practices.


Learn what psychosocial care the child needs

  • Through quiet talks and active listening, the leader learns
  • what the child wants to have happen, now that s/he is safe
  • what continued psychosocial problems the child needs help with
  • what questions s/he has
  • how much understanding s/he has of how the world works

The appropriate balance between individual and group psychosocial rehabilitation is different in different cultures, and from one person to another. A mix of activities can help children of all ages to feel better in themselves, to connect with others in a friendly way, to relate better to a group

Money, special spaces and equipment are not necessary. For ECPAT in Thailand, Colin Cotterill developed an Ideas Bank of activities for programs that do not have much money.

Use all of the home’s staff to lead activities that calm and heal children. Only few of these activities require the leader to have any special training.


Knowing what will happen
An organized routine can help children to feel less anxiety. Include free time in the timetable (list of what will happen when).
Explain any changes before they happen.

In families, help parents to plan how to get children fed and at school on time every day. Discuss with parents how to give boys and girls the time that they need for studying at home and for playing, as well as for family work.

Establish a sense of order, so clients know what to expect.
A friendly welcome to the group for children who were isolated (kept away from others, very lonely, treated as an outsider), getting close to others of the same age is especially important. Everyone, young or old, needs friends. But new children may have lost the social skills of connecting with others. They may be inhibited and avoidant. Some others may mostly use force, anger and abuse in relating to others. Notice when children make friends. When friends choose each other, keep themtogether in activities.

Developing good social skills is even more important for a child’s future than learning to read and write.


Closeness and touching may be part of ordinary life. However, think carefully before giving the same kind of touching. Touching, even from someone of the same gender, can threaten or retraumatize a child who has suffered abuse.

Before touching a child

  • put out a hand toward the child and see if s/he takes it ask if s/he wants to be touched and will let you touch
  • limit touching to hands and lower arms (in some cultures feet or head may also be appropriate)
  • touch without moving your hands

If in doubt, don’t touch children. Show them care in other ways. Do not allow any touching that a child does not want.

Massage (touching people with moving hands) can be powerful in healing people who want it. But even in cultures where massage is a custom, if it is given by someone who does not understand trauma, the experience may retraumatize a vulnerable child. Many young children feel a strong hunger to be touched and held. Pay attention to how they react, and learn the kind of touching that they like. Some children who were sexually abused may try sexual touching of others. Be aware that this behavior is possible. If it happens, gently teach what is appropriate, and what the limits are. Do not make any child feel guilty or shamed.

Be sure that every staff member follows the center’s Code of Conduct Be especially careful to avoid touch or physical one-on-one contact that could suggest or lead toward sexual exploitation of a child.

Any touching that requires hiding from others must not happen in a rehabilitation program. Show and teach respect for everyone

Require and expect respect in all relationships among children and staff. This is not always easy. Many children lived where struggle and abuse were part of every day. They had to fight to survive. In the home, fighting and bullying behavior is not needed. However, some children may continue to use it for some time.

Work with staff and children to

  • keep everyone feeling safe
  • set limits to threatening behavior
  • help all clients to learn calmer ways to get along in a group

Calming oneself through sitting quietly
Meditation (sitting quietly, breathing, calming the mind and spirit) helps some children to recover. Many forms of yoga (a system of many different exercises to balance the body and mind) also give strength and calm.

But for some children, to sit still and be guided through a meditation is not helpful. The mental pictures and memories that come up can make a child anxious, fearful or angry. Be aware that some children may be psychologically vulnerable (at risk due to past trauma) and should not try this activity.

Music, singing and quiet
Music that children make for themselves can build their self-confidence. Singing increases children’s language and can bring a group together. Singing can also express emotions that people cannot put into their own words. Consider the effects of recorded music. Some music calms and heals children, but some recordings are full of anger and violence. Discuss with staff what music, and how much quiet, is most appropriate to create a healing environment. The music that vulnerable children need to have around them may not be what the staff would choose. Children may also need more quiet.

At a home, the children’s needs come first.

Movement and dancing
Physical activity is very important to children. Plan physical activities every day, and give them a choice if possible. Simply taking walks together may help ill or depressed children who do not yet have the energy for more activity. Dancing has special value. Local traditions often include special songs and dances for girls and women.

We are huge fans of dance therapy and have witnessed newly arrived children/young women with
horrendous backgrounds make their first steps into peer bonding (connecting with others), first
smiles, etc. in dance class.
(Bashford, Asha-Nepal UK, letter to Free the Slaves)

Remember that children may be very vulnerable in their feelings. Team games that include everyone may build self-confidence better than games that name winners and can make losers feel shame. If everyone is active and laughing, that is a good sign. If some children are left out or feeling isolated, offer different activities that will meet their needs better. Sometimes a home gives the boys footballs, but has nothing for girls to do. Then the girls do not get enough physical activity and may remain passive.

Girls need physical activity as much as boys do.
Have some sitting-down games available for two or more people to play. Many traditional games encourage (give good conditions for) thinking and also help children relate to each other. Checkers (draughts, a game played on squares of black and white) is one of these games. If a child does not yet want to talk much, encourage her or him to play such games with others.

Practicing relaxation
Our home practices relaxation (making their bodies less tense, more at ease and comfortable). Staff teaches children to stretch, breathe deeply, and move gently. Relaxation helps children to let go of the trauma and fear that may be stored in the body as pain.

Drama: role plays and puppets
Developing small role plays helps children to share their own painful experience and also find some emotional distance from it. They choose the subjects.

Boys at an Indian rehabilitation center acted their own role play showing a father who drinks alcohol with a trafficker. The father then accepts money from the trafficker, and sends his son away with him. The mother is left out of the decision. Another role play made by children themselves shows a woman kicking a sick child who is lying on the floor. She says with anger, “I paid a lot of money for him, and now he’s dying.” (Free the Slaves video footage, BVA and Loknayak)

When children do not speak with ease, give them hand puppets (cloth figures of people or animals that are put on one’s hand). Puppets can be made from a sock (foot covering) with eyes drawn on. Puppets give a child a safe way to express anger, fear and other feelings that they sometimes do not talk about freely.

Making pictures and handcrafts
Art materials that cost a lot of money are not necessary. Pencils and any old paper are enough, until colors can be provided. Through pictures, children express feelings that cannot be put into words.

Children who have suffered as soldiers draw men with guns, houses on fire, and bloody people running away. Boys who were slaves in the rug industry draw what life was like when they were locked in the loom buildings. Children who were in the silk industry draw the cocoons that they had to take out of boiling water with their hands.

Invite children to talk about their pictures if they want, but do not urge them. Many people do not like to explain what they have put into a picture.

Some children like to make art from clay (special kind of earth). If there is no clay, provide anything else that will make shapes, such as a dough (a mixture of salt, water and flour). Some cjo;drem will know how to use wire, wood and plastic to make things like small cars and people. Encourage children to use all materials freely in their own way, instead of doing just what someone else does. This is their chance to create what they want. They need to have their work recognized. Provide places where children can show their handcrafts with their names, so as to build their sense of self.

Support traditional handcrafts. Wherever appropriate in the culture, teach children to make baskets, sew clothes, or paint designs on things – and to put their names on the work. If a child’s work is sold, s/he should get and keep the money. Teach handcrafts as a way of calming and expressing oneself, but not as the only way to earn a livelihood (enough money or other resources to live on).

Freed Restavec children need to learn that they have rights, and that slavery violated their rights. Children have as many rights as any other person. A child sent into slavery by someone in the family has rights of his or her own – even if tradition gives parents power over their children.

Children have the same rights as adults, and more.
For newcomers, our program sets an example by being careful to respect their rights. In the next weeks and months, the program can empower children to name and claim their rights.


Use people’s names
Many slaveholders use a word such as girl or boy or even slave, instead of a person’s name. But every person has a right to his or her own name. For each child, use the name s/he wants you to use. Children may need help in remembering their full names. Tell new children the names of staff members. Encourage all children to use those names, with respect, rather than using words like sir, aunty or teacher. Everyone has the right to know and use the names of people in power.

The added rights of children
The Convention on the Rights of the Child lists added rights of everyone under 18 years old.

Every child has the right to

  • say what s/he thinks
  • have his or her ideas listened to and considered in any decisions
  • be in contact with parents and family, if s/he wants the contact
  • receive primary schooling (the first 6-8 years), and appropriate added education and training
  • play
  • rest
  • Every child coming out of slavery also has a right to a guardian all through the process of rehabilitation

If staff members feel that they must put some limits on a young child’s rights, the child’s guardian must make that decision.

The best interests of a child must be the main thing that is considered in all decisions.

Rights are learned through examples, teaching, and plenty of practice in using them.

Teach children to name their rights

At first, children may not have language to understand what has happened to them. They need to learn the words that name their rights.

Working with Indian youths in rehabilitation, the Bal Vikas Ashram finds it helpful to have them
chant simple messages, like “Children have a right to school.”

Children need to know

  • the right to free movement (going where one chooses)
  • the right to free association (choosing whom to be with, making groups)
  • the right to free expression (saying or writing whatever one wants)
  • the right to receive equal treatment under national laws
  • the right to protection from all forms of discrimination because of gender,
  • ethnic group, physical or mental difficulties, or other differences

Both males and females need to discuss the subject of gender. Bring up questions such as

  • What is happening to girls and women?
  • Are they discriminated against?
  • What are women’s and girls’ rights?
  • Do men believe that they have some rights that women do not have?
  • What needs to change?
  • Who can make changes happen?
  • Ensure that all boys and men discuss violence

Ensure that all boys and men discuss violence toward women. Help them to see that a man who suffered in slavery should not beat and abuse his own wife and children. Discuss other ways of settling conflicts.

Teach clients to claim and use their rights

Rights die when they are not used.

In the Restavec condition, children probably were safest when they were quiet or passive. Many girls and women also have learned from childhood to let men speak and make decisions for them. Children of both sexes may have been taken from home so young that they have never decided anything for themselves. But now children have the right to free expression, to information, to have their ideas listened to, and so on. By encouraging children to claim and use all of their rights, the staff gets them ready for the real world. Use role-playing, in which children practice what to say, in order to increase their self confidence.

Children start by learning a few sentences and acting out that situation. After that they can go on to role play the same situation with their own words. Role play many different situations in which a child is vulnerable to exploitation unless s/he demands his or her rights. Have the chlid name the rights that are being used.

Sample role plays on rights

Saying no and being listened to
Teacher: I want to take pictures of this class for the newspaper.
Girl: I don’t want my family to see my picture here.
Teacher: But this newspaper does not go to your home country.
Other youths: (all talking together) Let’s have the picture. What is the harm?
We will all be in it together. Why are you keeping out of it?
Girl: (She looks sad and frightened.) I just don’t want to.
Teacher: Is there anyone else who does not want to be in the picture?
Three more girls: (finding their voices) We don’t want to.
Teacher: All right, you don’t have to. We can take the picture without you.
*An employer is someone who pays a person to work.

Ask children to think of situations where they have trouble using their rights. Then they can make up their own role plays.

Continue attention to children’s added rights
The child should know the name of his or her guardian, and see the guardian often. The guardian gives him or her information in language that s/he can easily understand. The guardian should listen to the child’s ideas carefully and consider them in deciding what to do. For example:

Guardian: Tomorrow we have a police officer coming to talk with you.
Child: (looks away, no answer)
Guardian: How does that sound to you?
Child: I don’t want to see him….I’m afraid.
Guardian: He wants to know about the slaveholder who broke your arm.
You don’t have to say anything that you don’t want to.
Child: (looking down) Is the policeman going to shout at me?
Guardian: We will not let him do that. You have not done anything wrong.
Would you like me to stay with you when the policeman is here?
Child: Yes, please.
Guardian: All right. I will make sure you are safe.

Added protections for working children
International conventions and rules say that children must be protected from work that can harm them. Clients going home to their own communities may have to explain these limits to others.

Limits on the work of children
From 5 to 11 years old

  • Children should not work for someone’s economic profit* outside their family.
  • Their work for their own family should not prevent their attending primary school.
  • The work must not be dangerous to their safety, health, or moral development.

From 12 to 14 years old

  • Children can work for no more than 14 hours a week for someone’s economic profit outside their family.
  • The work must not be dangerous to their safety, health, or moral development.

From 15 to 17 years old

  • Children may work outside the family but not in the worst forms of child labor. These include slavery, prostitution, being a soldier, criminal activities, and any work that is dangerous to the child’s safety, health or moral development.

*Economic profit here means producing whatever could be sold for money, like things made in a factory or
crops grown on a farm. It also includes services like domestic work or working in a shop or restaurant.

Having skills (knowing how to do things) is very important to childrens’ future. Even adult clients may lack some skills for modern life. Give attention and time to teaching the skills that are needed for daily life. Be sure that they practice these skills. You do not want the children to become too dependent (depending too much on being taken care of by others, being passive).


Build trust through full communication
As Restavec’s, children probably could not ask questions or talk freely to slaveholders.
Encourage every child to talk with and ask questions of anyone on the staff.

Discuss and explain everything that interests clients.
If all the people in a group have their heads at the same level, free discussion is often easier. Try to get away from customs where differences in power are shown by who is standing up and who is sitting down

Also try to change any traditions that older people speak while younger ones keep quiet. Create an environment where everyone is equally valued. Traffickers and slaveholders lie to slaves. Always tell children the truth. This shows respect and helps them to develop trust again. Knowing that some people can be trusted, and deciding whom to trust, are important steps in rehabilitation.

Honest and full sharing of information helps children to develop trust.


Teach basic knowledge for survival in freedom
Every staff member knows and uses the skills for daily life, so everyone on the staff is a teacher. Children can also teach each other. Have them practice the skills both in and out of our home, for example buying food at a market. This practice prevents them from becoming too dependent.

People learn best by doing things for themselves

More skills for daily life:

  • Simple reading and numbers
  • Reading numbers and important common words
  • Reading numbers
  • Reading important signs such as Danger, Exit, Tickets, WC (or toilet)
  • Telling time
  • Reading a timetable


  • Counting money and knowing if the money given back is correct
  • Bargaining (talking with a seller to bring a price down)
  • Receiving wages, getting correct pay for work
  • Saving money, avoiding loans and debts
  • Getting receipts (signed papers proving that money was paid)

More skills for daily life: Household work

  • Producing food at home
  • Growing vegetables and grains, and storing them
  • Caring for animals, chickens, etc
  • Fishing and catching wild animals


  • Choosing clothes for long use
  • Fixing them when they tear or get holes (for boys and men as well as girls and women)

More skills for daily life: Getting around

  • Finding one’s way in a new place
  • Whom it is safest to ask for help and directions
  • Traveling alone on buses, trains (and other ways, as appropriate)
  • Riding and repairing a bicycle (for girls and women as well as boys and men)

The skill of speaking; finding one’s voice
Slaves often had to keep quiet, or were isolated without friends. Because talking with ease is an important skill for daily life, encourage children to talk with each other as much as possible. Everyone needs practice in saying what they think. Encourage children to express their ideas. Gently encourage quiet children to speak loudly enough so everyone can hear.

Use open questions that invite people to speak
Open questions are questions that encourage a person to talk freely.* They invite someone to speak freely. The speaker has control over what to say and how to say it. Open questions are not questions about facts, and cannot be answered just yes or no. Open questions have many possible answers; they have no right or wrong answers. For example:

  • What do you think?
  • How is this going for you?
  • What would be some good ideas?
  • What was it like for you, before you came here?
  • What more could we talk about for a while?
  • What else would you like to tell us?
  • There is no need to stop discussion with the first answer. Encourage many different
  • answers, and welcome everything that the children say. Listen with attention.

*It is not easy to learn to ask open questions instead of asking yes/no questions. It is also not easy to
learn to wait for and accept many different answers. Staff may need to practice these skills in role plays.

Help freed slaves to find their voices.

The skill of deciding for oneself

As soon as possible, avoid telling children what to do, so they become skilled at making decisions (deciding about something) for themselves. Each day a child should be able to decide at least

What to do with free time
Whom to be with
Clients need to learn how to trust themselves. They may have become very anxious and dependent, and question whether they can make good decisions. Being responsible for small decisions that go well may reduce their fear of making decisions in the future.

Making decisions develops a person’s sense of self
Just like every other area in the brain, the regions involved in developing a sense of self grow or fail to grow depending upon how often they are exercised (used many times). To develop a self, one must exercise choice and learn from the results of those choices. If the only thing you are taught is to do what you are told, or to follow a rule, you have little way of knowing what you like and want.

Tell children stories that show what people can do. Teach a seven-step process for making decisions. A group can practice the process together. Then a cild can also use it for his or her own decisions.

Seven steps for making decisions

  1. Agree in simple language: What is the problem or question that you need to decide?
  1. Think of all the possible ways to respond (to react, to act in answer to a situation). Make a list of them.
  2. Discuss what will probably be the consequences of each response. These results might be good or bad, or both.
  3. Think about what is important to you, your basic values and beliefs. For example, these might include respecting yourself, caring for others, keeping yourself safe, telling the truth, respecting your family, being loyal to friends, etc.
  4. Thinking about the expected results of each response, and remembering your basic values and beliefs, choose one response.
  5. Do what you have decided. If it is going to take a long time, perhaps make a step-by-step plan first. But act on your decision; do not stop with planning.
  6. After you have acted on your decision, look back at how it worked out for you. Even a good decision may not have worked out very well. You can repeat the steps to make a new decision.

The skill of protecting oneself
Discuss and role play situations where clients struggle with fear and anger. Practice:

  • how to recognize people who could be dangerous
  • how to get out of any bad situation
  • when it is important to fight back, to get angry, or to shout for help
  • how to avoid or escape people who are sexually dangerous
  • Training in physical and mental self-protection through arts such as karate and tae kwan do can be given to both females and males. In the simple form of these arts, physical strength is not so important as self-control and knowing how to move. When girls and women learn how to protect themselves if they are attacked, they have more self-confidence. But be sure that if clients get training in these arts, they do not use them for fighting and bullying.

Rewards for new ideas and progress
Most slaves are not rewarded for having new ideas. But to be successful in freedom, children need to act for themselves and do new things. Warm attention and words can be used to reward a child’s good acts and ideas.

General praise like “You’re a good boy” is not the most helpful. Each day, look for something new or good that each child does. Name exactly what they did, and say how it was good.

In giving praise, say exactly what was done well.
A very shy child comes to you without being asked, and tells you he saw a big airplane. Staff member: You came over here to tell me what you saw. I’m glad you told me. Let’s look for it again tomorrow.

Another child calls a girl a bad name. She shouts “Leave me alone!” but does not hit him.
Staff member: You showed him how angry you are, but you did not hit him. That took a lot of self-control. Good for you!

Some children sing together as they study.
Staff member: It’s very good to have music in this house!

An older child welcomes a newcomer and stays close to her all day.
Staff member: You stayed with our new girl all through her first day. Thank you for making her feel that she has a friend here.

Staff members also become empowered when their good work is noticed and named.
Director: You are listening actively to those two frightened newcomers. You aregiving them attention in a very warm way. That’s exactly what they need. Thank you

How much contact does the child want?
Freed children have a right to contact with their families. They also have a right to protection from contact. Perhaps they fear the family will not welcome them. They may fear some relatives, especially if they were given away by a family member. There may be a risk of verbal abuse or physical abuse. Theremay also be sexual exploitation at home or in that community.

Is the person who claims a child the real parent?
Children are in danger of being made into a Restavec again if they are given to the wrong person. Before they meet, test what a person knows about the child. APPLE, an organization that rescues children in Ghana, has some suggestions.

  • Show a photo of several children, and have the parents point out their own child.
  • Ask the parents to name any special marks on the child – scars etc.
  • Ask them the age of their child.
  • Ask them to name the slaveholder who took away the child.

Also ask the person who claims a child whatever you have learned from the child

  • names of siblings and other relatives
  • age of the child
  • names of hills, rivers, where water is collected, markets or post offices
  • what the family does to make a living
  • name of slaveholder

In some situations, the parent can be asked to bring documents that name or picture the child, such as

  • a family photo showing both the child and the parents
  • birth registration or the child’s ration card
  • a letter from the head person of a village naming the parents and the child, although this by itself is not enough evidence

Observe the child’s reaction to someone who claims him or her
Let the child see the person from a distance, without being seen. Or show the child a photo of the claimant (person who is claiming him or her).

  • How does the child respond?
  • Does he recognize that person?
  • Is the child feeling pleasure or fear?

If you decide to let a child meet the claimant, observe whether the child is happy and comfortable, or not.

Four adults came to the Bal Vikas Ashram rehabilitation center in India to take their children home. One of the four seemed to have no relationship with the boy whom he claimed to be his real brother. The man met the boy with great happiness and put him into his lap, but the boy was not comfortable and the expression on his face said something different. The boy and the man were talked with separately by center staff members. Through careful questioning of the man, it was learned that he was of the same village, but not the child’s real brother. The child was not released to this man. His real parents were awaited. (report from BVA)

Things to learn about a child’s family
What is their economic situation?

  • Does the family have enough food and appropriate shelter?
  • How many working adults are there?
  • How do they make their livelihood?
  • Do they owe landowners or money lenders (people who make loans)?
  • Is anyone in the family always sick, or not able to work for some reason?

How are the children?

  • Are the children in the home getting enough food and health care?
  • Are the children going to school?
  • Have other children been sent away to work, perhaps trafficked?
  • Do any of the children show signs of neglect or abuse?

What is the level of danger?

  • Are any family members using alcohol or drugs?
  • Do any family members use violence to control or abuse others?
  • Is there a risk that traffickers will attack the client or family?
  • Do local officials protect people by enforcing the laws fairly?


No hurry with reading and writing. Allow time for a child to become calmer, watch lessons, listen and develop trust. Observe to see when s/he is ready to join in.


Understanding and speaking freely are even more important than reading and writing. Help all children to express themselves well in their home language. As slaves, they perhaps heard mostly rude words and commands. Even ordinary words may not have been learned because a slave was cut off, and was just surviving day-to-day in isolation and confusion.

Add to childrens’ understanding of their language. Especially if they were given as children, they may need to learn

  • language that is respectful (showing respect, appropriate for the age of the person they are talking with)
  • language for speaking about the past and the future
  • words for their feelings
  • words for complex linked thoughts (such as if/then, although, because)
  • words for social problems (such as slavery, corruption, poverty)
  • words for their own rights (such as education, decisions)

Helpful schooling
Having a timetable and a chance to learn helps many children to feel more settled. Calling themselves pupils (school children) gives them a good new picture of themselves, and a new sense of purpose and progress.

Punishment (being punished with damaging words or physical violence) is not good for any pupil. Punishment is especially terrible for anxious or traumatized children. In local schools, some pupils or staff members may be abusive (doing or saying things that abuse others). Before sending vulnerable children out to a local school, be sure that it will really be safe for them. If there is doubt, the child’s foster parent decides and follows up closely.

Education needed at different ages
For pupils from five to twelve years old, teaching with the usual schoolbooks may be appropriate. Youths and adults need to catch up with schooling that they have missed. Seek ways to give these older children the schooling that they need. Teach reading and numbers using childrens’ own experiences. Many will be good at mental arithmetic (use of numbers) from working in markets. They may already recognize signs such as stop or exit.

Training that is useful for our children will

  • be of high value in the market
  • contribute to economic development
  • have minimal chances of becoming out of date, not useful any more
  • be learnable by students with primary education
  • build on their individual interests and talents
  • be available at local training centers
  • be affordable, something we can find enough money to pay for
  • fill an identified local need
  • provide job opportunities in the community
  • be unlikely to cause saturation in the area
  • (adapted by Sankalp from recommendations of self-help groups)

Teach how to be a good student and in the future worker
In slavery, many children had to lie and steal in order to survive. They may have worked hard only when the slaveholder was watching or threatening them. Now that they are starting a new life, help them learn what to do in order to be a student and keep a paid job. Most workers have a supervisor (person responsible for the quality of their work). Be sure that clients know what employers and supervisors expect from a good worker.