BY JANE TRAVIS
As Viva’s partner network, CRANE, promotes better family-based care for children in Uganda, what is the reaction of Child Care Institutions (CCIs) to this message of reintegration? Jane Travis visited Kampala to find out.
“An epiphany moment!”
It was encouraging to hear these positive responses as I met with a group of 20 CCI Directors with whom CRANE has been working for the past few years, raising awareness and training them about alternative care for children.
New government guidelines in 2012 restricted the length of stay of children in CCIs to three to six months, meaning that many homes or orphanages offering long-term residential care for children had to change their working practice.
Some CCI Directors told me that their initial reaction to this announcement was that they felt it would be impossible to change their way of working and that it was unrealistic for children in their institutions to reunited with their families. Staff worried about their future roles and about returning the children they cared for to struggling families.
For others, though, they described it as an “epiphany moment” or “breakthrough” as they began to learn about how children benefitted more from being in a family situation.
Their motives had always been to provide the best possible care for children, so they could see that family-based care was the best option.
One CCI Director spoke about the new guidelines as a “blessing” because his home catering for 25 children was proving expensive and unsustainable. He saw how he was able to provide temporary care and support for many more children at a crisis point in their lives, before reuniting them with their families.
Another director was able to draw on his own experience of not having a family and the negative impact he knew that had had on his life.
CCI Directors told me a number of reasons that helped them to make the change in their work practice. CRANE was cited as a key influence as it linked Directors with others facing the same challenge, provided biblical understanding about the importance of family and awareness about the legal implications.
Directors were also grateful to CRANE for providing training on early childhood development and working with economically struggling families. The training felt to be the most useful was the training that CRANE provided for social workers on their role and practice.
There are, of course, challenges in resettling children back into families. These include lack of support from government child protection structures, stigma around a child returning to family – especially if a child has been abused, has got pregnant or has HIV/AIDS – and children changing their stories about where their families are.
It can be expensive trying to trace a family especially if a child has given the wrong location. There is also a financial burden on families to receive a child back, which is why receiving families are involved in income generating activities facilitated by CRANE.
However, the CCI Directors all concluded that they now see benefits in the lives of the children that have been reunited with their families.
Many still keep in contact with the children that used to live in their establishments. They feel that “children have sense of belonging” and they see that as children are reunited with their families, “the child’s self-worth and confidence increases”.
One group of directors said that they could see that “families have been strengthened, children are in education and living in a safe environment”.
Another group said: “This is a cost-effective way of supporting children. It is fulfilling our vision of helping vulnerable children to become less vulnerable and opening the door to help more children. Children need to exit our facilities so others can enter.”
Those CCI Directors who are part of CRANE, and are now running temporary transition homes for children, work closely with others in the network working with street children, to provide rehabilitation and family reunification.
Jane Travis is Viva’s Programme Development Manager