Although from its inception and until 1956, the organization focused on health, there was an ever-present conviction that children’s problems should be the object of a comprehensive approach rather than submitted to partial solutions.
This comprehensive approach to child-related issues led to the creation of several technical divisions that evolved over the years, in keeping with the new realities affecting children’s lives in the region.
At present, there are three technical areas in operation, Promotion and Protection of Rights, Legal, and Communication and Information, but throughout its history, the Institute has exerted its influence in many different matters related to childhood and adolescence.
The Inter-American Children’s Institute has always been aware of the importance of rights, and especially legislation on rights, as one of the main vehicles to improve the integration of children and family into society. For this reason, the IIN has made important and innovative contributions in this area. It should be particularly noted that almost every inter-American regulatory framework on children, adolescents and youth has been influenced by – and in some cases resulted from – meetings, research and doctrine promoted by the IIN, mostly through the Pan American Child Congresses that were held as from 1916.
The IIN was also the first institution to take up the responsibility of training human resources on the specialized administration of justice. To that end, it provided university courses of the highest academic level on training, specialization and updating for family judges and children’s courts and directors of executive organizations for the protection of children at regional, national and inter-American levels.
At the same time, it has intervened in various education-related areas, such as: handicaps, learning disabilities, early intervention and stimulation, care of multiple sensorial disorders, vocational rehabilitation and pre-school education.
The IIN has also worked in helping children with learning disabilities in the areas of reading, writing and mathematics. It has given courses and trained personnel in all of the American countries, with expanding results. The IIN was in the forefront of activities to make countries aware of the need to integrate handicapped children into the school and social mainstream.
During its early years, the IIN promoted and developed activities to benefit the health of the children in the region, with a special emphasis on topics such as Comprehensive Socio-Medical care for children, nutritional problems affecting children and families, and education on hygiene at individual, family and school levels.
As in other areas, the Institute pioneered the promotion of activities related to Social and Community Paediatrics in most countries in the region. The need to integrate services for research, prevention and healing within a single structure projected towards families and communities, was promoted through Congresses and Conferences.
Throughout the years, several works have been published on drug abuse concerning children and young persons, surveys have been conducted, and information has been processed on this situation in the different countries of the region. Seminars, workshops, training courses and exchanges of experience have been organized as well, thus leading to the creation of specialists in this field.
In 1964, the Inter-American Children’s Institute began to participate in the area of civil registration and statistics and developed a number of actions aimed at promoting legislation to improve civil society and vital statistics.
By 1987, the IIN was aware of the importance of being able to have reliable information in order to make appropriate decisions and make accurate analyses and diagnoses of the different situations involving children. On the other hand, the "information era" provided better and faster tools for accessing, processing and analysing data.
At the same time, as the IIN became aware of the absence in the region of reliable information systems specifically related to the needs of children, it launched the Programme for Information on Children and the Family. This initiative positioned the IIN as leader in the development of information systems related to children’s issues.
The constant pursuit of providing improved social well-being to all children in the region reached its peak in the 80s with the creation of the Unit of Social Affairs. This Unit was given the mandate of studying the social phenomena of poverty and marginalization and their subsequent impact on the family and on child neglect or abandonment.
The actions proposed to deal with this problem were very innovative at that time since they were based on preventive measures, avoiding as far as possible the uprooting of children from their family environment and keeping institutionalization as a last resort. These initiatives also had a participatory nature as families involved were considered to be active agents in the search for solutions, rather than passive recipients of assistance.