It’s estimated that there are 145 million registered orphans across the world, and of these only about 9 per cent have lost both parents. Many families are unstable and millions more children are separated from one or both parents due to violence, abuse, alcoholism, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, and other conflicts.
Too many children are suffering in silence. Millions run away from home, and small babies are abandoned to institutions; parents perhaps assuming children will receive better care and a brighter future from orphanages than they are able to provide.
However, what many parents perhaps don’t realise are the detrimental effects these homes can have on the physical and mental development, behaviour, mental health, intellect, social abilities, and emotional well-being of children.
It is into this context that Viva developed the Why Families Matter Toolkit. The Toolkit is a resource pack designed specifically to help churches and Christian organisations working with children to understand God’s heart for children to belong in families.
The pack presents a Christian theological perspective as well as some universally acknowledged principles of keeping children safe from harm and positive parenting, intended to be used as a six-week series.
All 38 of Viva’s partner networks were trained in how to use and promote the learning within the Toolkit, and encouraged to consider how to use it in their local contexts. To date, 15 networks around the world have implemented the training with 441 churches and organisations with nearly 3,500 adults attending these sessions.
So far, networks in El Salvador and Argentina have received invitations from the government to share about the need for this training on family strengthening and the importance of family-based care.
In Uganda, where the Why Families Matter programme was first piloted, training pastors using the toolkit has continued to grow; now cutting across a variety of denominations including Anglican, Baptist and Pentecostal.
In Delhi, India, following a Being Family conference attended by 150 people, it was reported by one participant that “after the seminar, parents, grandparents andchildren are now attending the church together, as a joint family”.
During the Being Family seminars, sessions covering family reintegration generated a lot of interest among the participants, which was demonstrated through excited participation in group discussions, interesting questions raised and helpful feedback provided.
Participants in India have realised that churches need to adopt a new approach towards the issue of children without families, but recognise that doing so will require a huge amount of teaching and training due to the predominantly passive culture within churches around adoption.
Participants agree that the Bible sets a clear mandate for the body of Christ to be responsible for taking care of fatherless, but also recognise that until now the Church of India’s response to this call has been through establishing orphanages and children’s homes.
Churches and organisations who received training were given copies of Why Families Matter and encouraged to use it in their churches and cell groups to raise the awareness of church members and believers.
In Hyderabad, India, the network began training three orphanages, or children’s homes, to help them to meet government standards of care for children. Persecution in India means that many homes are being closed down officially due to poor compliance to standards, forcing the children to be immediately transitioned elsewhere.
The support Viva’s partner network in Hyderabad have been able to provide through this training, was so valuable that an increasing number of institutions have asked to join the network.
It is now working with over 40 children’s homes, providing a range of training to ensure the homes have child protection practices in place, children are supported with counselling and they are meeting government regulations.
As this training and trust increases, the network aims to begin to use the toolkit to encourage homes to consider providing shorter-term care for children, and encourage a larger focus on reintegrating children with loving families.
With these centres, this training is long process, as they are accustomed to working independently, and feel their God-given calling is to be running their children’s home the way they have always done.
The network will continue to work with these centres to ensure they provide good quality care whilst they introduce the deeper questions and help them to prayerfully consider re-framing their calling through the lens of Why Families Matter and Better Homes for Children training.
One of the network coordinators in Hyderabad, India, who also runs a small children’s home himself said after learning about the program:
“This really is an answer to prayer… that really guided me for the future. Now I can go for family-based care and keep the home for very small short-term care.”
In parts of India, persecution of Christians is often displayed in the forced closure of children’s homes. These trainings have arrived at a time when many Christians are at a loss of how to respond.
God is answering the prayers of thousands of people in India and around the world, through the use and implementation of a simple resource.