Testimony of Neil Boothby, PhD , U.S. Government Special Advisor and Senior Coordinator to the USAID Administrator on Children in Adversity, before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Thank you Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Graham and Members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, for the opportunity to speak with you today about the U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity. Thank you for your continued support for our efforts to make a difference in the lives of millions of children.


The U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity is the first-ever whole-of-government strategic guidance for U.S. Government international assistance for children. It is a requirement of Public Law 109-95. Seven U.S. Government agencies and departments have endorsed the Action Plan, which was cleared by OMB and launched at the White House on December 19, 2012.

The Plan is grounded in evidence that shows a promising future belongs to those nations that invest wisely in their children, while failure to do so undermines social and economic progress. Child development is a cornerstone for all development, and it is central to U. S. development and diplomatic efforts. The Plan seeks to integrate internationally recognized, evidence-based good practices into all of its international assistance initiatives for the best interests of the child.


The goal of the U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity is to achieve a world in which all children grow up within protective family care and free from deprivation, exploitation, and danger.

Principal Objectives

The Plan is focused on coordinating programs throughout the U.S. Government to achieve three primary objectives. The first objective is to build strong beginnings.  The U.S. Government will help ensure that children under five not only survive, but also thrive by supporting comprehensive programs that promote sound development of children through the integration of health, nutrition, and family support.

The second objective is to put family care first.  U.S. Government assistance will support and enable families to care for their children, prevent unnecessary family-child separation, and promote appropriate, protective and permanent family care.

The third objective is to protect children. The U.S. Government will facilitate the efforts of national governments and partners to prevent, respond to, and protect children from violence, exploitation, abuse, and neglect.

Supporting Objectives

In addition, the Plan highlights the importance of three supporting objectives and across the U.S. Government we are working to execute  these objectives. The first supporting objective is to strengthen child welfare and protection systems. The U.S. Government will support partners to build and strengthen holistic and integrated models to promote the best interests of the child.

The second supporting objective is to promote evidence-based policies and programs. The U.S. Government devotes resources to building and maintaining a strong evidence base on which future activities to reach and assist the most vulnerable children can be effectively planned and implemented. This evidence base will assist in the cost-effective utilization of program funds as well as the monitoring and evaluation of program effectiveness and long-term impact on children.

The third and final supporting objective of the Plan is to integrate this Plan within U.S. Government departments and agencies. The U.S. Government will institutionalize and integrate the components of this Plan as reflected in its diplomatic, development, and humanitarian efforts overseas.

Legislative mandate

An interagency strategy is a requirement of Public Law 109-95: The Assistance for Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children in Developing Countries Act of 2005, which was signed into law to promote a comprehensive, coordinated, and effective response on the part of the U.S. Government to the world’s most vulnerable children. In accordance with the legislative mandate, an interagency coordination strategy was developed in 2006. However, interagency partners agreed that the strategy required revision given the number of U.S. government offices, departments and agencies involved in international assistance to vulnerable children that were not included in the 2006 strategy, the 2006 strategy lacked clarity with regard to overarching guiding principles, goals, objectives and outcome indicators.


The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is the coordinating agency under PL 109-95 and the administrative home of the U.S. Government Special Advisor on Children in Adversity, a position mandated by PL 109-95 (see roles and responsibilities below).  To better coordinate its efforts, USAID has recently established a Center of Excellence on Children in Adversity to bring together USAID’s technical experts – abroad and in Washington – who are leading our response to the world’s most vulnerable children.  

The architecture of U.S. Government international assistance to children

U.S. international assistance to children is substantial and channeled through more than 30 offices in seven U.S. Government departments and agencies – the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Labor, and State; the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Peace Corps – in more than 100 countries.

U.S. Government efforts to assist vulnerable girls and boys in low- and middle-income countries have focused on single vulnerability cohorts and categories – for example, children affected by HIV/AIDS, in emergencies, or in the worst forms of child labor, including those who have been trafficked. Although such efforts have produced substantial benefits, this diffused approach has sometimes resulted in a fragmented response.

Before the U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity was released in December 2012, there had been no overarching policy or guidance for U.S. international assistance for children. Coordinated, multifaceted action can help ensure that children in adversity benefit fully from policies and services. With its significant investments in international development, the technical expertise and research capabilities embedded within key agencies, and diplomatic outreach, the U.S. Government is well positioned to lead and mobilize around a sensible and strategic global agenda for children in adversity.

The Challenge

The United States’ sustained commitment through investments and partnerships has resulted in important initiatives that have increased the impact of foreign assistance in many key areas, including impressive gains in child survival.  The Action Plan on Children in Adversity signals a strong commitment to providing the integrated assistance required to ensure that children not only survive, but thrive.

While the Action Plan on Children in Adversity applies to U.S. Government assistance globally, it also identifies a more targeted starting point for coordination of these efforts:  to achieve three core outcomes in at least six focus countries over a span of five years.  In these countries, through U.S. Government collaboration with other government, international, private, faith-based, and academic partners, the Plan calls for significant reductions in the number of children not meeting age-appropriate growth and developmental milestones, children living outside of family, and children who experience violence or exploitation.

Focus countries

The vision for focus countries is proof of concept: ensuring that U.S. Government assistance is coordinated and effective at the country level by focusing on the Action Plan’s three core outcomes over a span of five years. In essence, focus countries are “laboratories” to see if we can achieve, scale up, and sustain greater results for children through a defined (3 outcomes) and comprehensive (whole-of-government) approach. A focus on outcomes, measurement and results reporting are Action Plan and PL 109-95 requirements.

Designation will be based on consultations with Congress, U.S. departments and agencies, partner donor governments, and other stakeholders. To promote country ownership and ensure meaningful engagement in the additional and intensive effort required for transformational positive change in children’s lives, host country governments will fully be part of discussions, planning, and negotiations from the outset.

Implementation Plans

In accordance with the Action Plan agency- and department-specific implementation plans are due within 180 days of the Plan’s launch (June 20, 2013). These plans specify how each U.S. government entity that signed onto the Plan will work to achieve its objectives. The consolidated plans will be included as a web-based appendix in the annual report to Congress on PL 109-95, also due at the end of June.

Measurement and Accountability

In accordance with the legislative requirements set forth in Public Law 109-95: Section 3(e)(2), the  Special Advisor will coordinate U.S. Government assistance to vulnerable children, establish priorities that promote the delivery of assistance to the most vulnerable populations, and measure the effectiveness of this assistance by administering a whole-of-government monitoring and evaluation system.

“The monitoring and evaluation system shall—

(A) establish performance goals for the assistance and expresses such goals in an objective and quantifiable form, to the extent feasible;

(B) establish performance indicators to be used in measuring or assessing the achievement of the performance goals described in subparagraph (A); and

(C) provide a basis for recommendations for adjustments to the assistance to enhance the impact of assistance.”


I am excited about the potential for gains in assisting children in adversity and humbled by the challenges we face. I look forward to continued partnership with my colleagues throughout the U.S. Government, and with the Subcommittee and Congress more generally, to harness our U.S. foreign assistance investments to meet the worthy aims of the Action Plan. 

U.S. Foreign Assistance for Children in Adversity
Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations

Last updated: May 23, 2013

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