BY LIZ CROSS
Our dream is for abandoned children to grow up in safe and loving families. The reality of life however means situations are deep-rooted and complex. Liz Cross explains why we believe a network approach is the best way to find solutions to society’s largest problems – in countries such as Uganda.
It was the end of term at ten-year-old Ruth’s boarding school but no-one came to pick her up. Her parents hadn’t paid her fees and they had heard of schools who would not allow children to return home until debts had been cleared. They assumed this was one of those schools; there was no-way they could pay so they just left her there. The school arranged transport to take Ruth home but when she got there she found that her parents had moved away and none of the neighbours knew where they’d gone. She had no other option at that time than a life on the streets.
Ruth is one of over 1,000 children who Viva and our partner network CRANE, in Uganda, has rescued from the streets or helped resettle from orphanages back into family care, whether this is with biological or foster parents.
Viva and CRANE work with 35 Child Care Institutions, advocating that a family home is a better place for a child than an orphanage. This requires a shift in thinking for most as orphanages are often funded by the number of children in their care. These 35 network members are now united in a vision to help provide family-based care for children and to work together, sharing best practice with one another, as well as with other organisations.
Maureen Muwonge, Deputy Director of Dwelling Places, a network member, says, “Through a network we are able to learn from each other. I visited two organisations last year that were orphanages and was able to support them in understanding that every child deserves to be raised in a family unit.”
CRANE and Viva have also created training programmes to teach network member staff about the methodology of family reintegration, so that resettlement is successful for both family and child. Staff learn how to trace a family, provide counselling and to ensure the home situation is safe and suitable for long-term care.
Alongside this, Viva and CRANE have also been working with government social workers, police and other authorities so that all the legal boxes are ticked.
Network members are even teaching others what they have learnt. Maureen has now helped those two orphanages develop a resettlement programme for the first time. She says, “I showed them how it could happen. They didn’t believe it was possible but by the end of the year they were able to resettle almost half of the children.”
Maureen is passionate about working together and the difference CRANE has made to her organisation: “There are so many benefits to being a part of a network as an individual organisation. You have a vision but many times you cannot achieve whatever you want to achieve unless you have people to support you.”
This certainly is the case in Ruth’s story: over four organisations were involved in helping her. After spending months on the streets, the local police picked her up and contacted an advocacy organisation in the network to see if they could help. This organisation didn’t have the mandate, resources or training to provide assistance, but they were part of a network who did.
They referred the case to another CRANE network member who provided Ruth with temporary care and started the process of tracing her family. When they didn’t have the budget to cover all of Ruth’s care costs, another network member came alongside and paid school fees.
Eventually, Ruth’s mother was found and it became clear that it was the father’s plan to abandon Ruth because of their money problems. Since then, the parents had separated and Ruth’s mother had remarried. Whilst she was happy to have her daughter back, her new husband wasn’t so willing to provide for another child.
CRANE came alongside and provided counselling to the family. The stepfather agreed to take Ruth in and CRANE gave the family a resettlement pack which contained everything necessary for providing immediate care for their daughter, including a mattress, bedding, mosquito net, food and soap. Ruth is now happily back home and is doing well at school. Social workers continue to visit her to ensure that she is receiving the care she deserves.
If it wasn’t for a network of organisations, Ruth’s life would be looking very different right now. Whether they located her, provided school fees or traced her family, each network member has played a part in Ruth’s story.
Through funding, training and developing the technical side of the family reintegration programme, Viva has ensured that CRANE is now in the best possible position to ensure children such as Ruth can return home.
Liz Cross is Viva’s Supporter Care Co-ordinator
Find out more about how CRANE takes children off the streets and reunites them with family by watching their video.
This article first appeared in Life magazine issue 6.