Did you know that even the best-run modern children’s home, can never be a replacement for family life? Everything can look perfect to the outside eye, but how is it r-e-a-l-l-y for the children growing up there?
For many years, children’s homes were fully accepted globally and were seen as a good way to save children, with little or no consideration of how it affected them. Believe it or not, research on the topic showed the harmful effects of institutional care already in the 1930s. Quite a few countries have responded to this, and have made other plans for children at risk, while other countries have not done anything at all. Still, approximately 90 years later.
Give a Child a Family Africa (GCF) does not want to be among the ones not doing anything because we know that children’s lives matter.
So, what is the problem? The first one is that more than 80% of all children in so-called orphanages are not orphans at all. They have at least one living parent, who could raise their own children if they just received some support.
When you continue reading, imagine this was you when you grew up or perhaps your own child or grandchild, or a child you know!
When it comes to the actual care of the children in residential care, it is complex. They have been taken away from the community they are from, which means that they most likely have been separated from siblings, family, relatives and friends and will now not be able to maintain these relationships.
At a children’s home, there are normally many children. All tend to be treated more or less the same regardless of their age, gender, abilities and needs. The presence of the childcare workers who do the daily care of the children is not consequent. They work shifts, go on leave and might resign. Relationships end again and again. Not to forget, the high numbers of physical and sexual abuse happening within a large number of these walls across the world.
Many children growing up in children’s homes at a young age are physically, socially and emotionally underdeveloped, which limits their life chances. They have not learned to trust, and love.
They are used to following very structured routines and have little chance to learn to do things on their own. The opportunities children growing up in families normally have are not there for children in a children’s home. They have lost their so important social network, that would help them thrive and create a good life when they are older.
They are less aware of their rights and tend to follow instructions without question, which makes them vulnerable to exploitation and various kinds of abuse. The risk of falling into addictions and criminality as well as depression and suicide is higher compared to others.
Heavy information? Yes, but knowing this helps us to see that what children need is loving adults, who know them well and who are always there for them, where many of these risks can be avoided and the chance to become a well-functioning adult one day is so much bigger.
So, what does GCF do about all this?
In 2022 we officially announced that we will eventually no longer have children at the Child and Youth Care Centre. We have started now, from April 2023 we are no longer receiving any new children. Our transformation from residential care to family care in the community has begun for real.
I would not say that GCF is ignorant, we are well aware that many children are ill-treated at home and sometimes must be removed from their families. Already from the beginning of the organisation’s history, more than 30 years ago, the aim was never to have children growing up with us. It was supposed to be short-term placements and only when absolutely necessary. Since children remained far too long at the centre, the Foster Care Programme was developed at the beginning of the 2000s. The more we have worked with children, the clearer it has become that every single child belongs in a stable and loving family where they are able to fully thrive.
Today, our residential social work team is working hard together with the children’s case managers to reintegrate them back into their biological families as much as possible. The specific programme assists the families, strengthens them and prepares them for reunification. For the children for whom moving back home is not an option, GCF has foster families ready for them.
Instead of entering the doors to the CYCC, children are placed with screened and trained safety parents on an emergency basis. Straight from one family to another, until they hopefully can move back home.
GCF thinks preventatively. What can be done to prevent children experiencing being removed from their families?
We are always advocating for what is best for every child in different ways on different levels of society. Our community workers have awareness sessions about social ills at schools, with parents, in community meetings and in other places. They also facilitate parenting courses and run support groups in underserved areas. We have a telephonic helpdesk where anyone can phone with their family concerns. GCF teaches other organisations, church leaders and traditional leaders about child safeguarding, protective behaviours and more. Selected staff members have been trained in Victim Empowerment and Trauma Support.
We will continue to develop and do more. We want to be able to be involved in working preventatively so much more than we currently are, so we can be a part of building up families so children can remain at home.
Are you aboard? What do you do to prevent family breakdowns?