By Jennifer Kaberi
For a long time institutionalization of children in orphanages and other care institutions was a major part of child social welfare services. Institutions were viewed as a place of refuge, where vulnerable children could get the help they needed.
However recent studies show that institutionalization of children have a life long effects on children. Peter Kamau, a care leaver explains it like this “The group care affects the way you interact with other and the connections with each other, especially with the house mother who has 30 other children to bond with”, He further says that what a child needs is not good food, shelter and school, it is the feeling of belonging and a person to guide you in the mucky parts in the journey of life. Peter says that most of the children who live in institutions don’t live to achieve there full potential and most of the time fall in the system cracks because a fluid after care program.
In addition the orphanages have been a prey ground for child trafficking in most developing countries as see in this CNN report
According to Lumos, 8 million children across the world live in orphanages and yet 80% of them are nor orphans. This means that this children are not to living to achieve there potential or at risk of being trafficked and hence the ‘Empty the orphanages movement’.
The movement has seen countries like Rwanda close orphanages and reunite the children to there parents. while the movement has been criticized of demonizing institutions, of being a fad and not having a back up plan for children with no families. The proponent of the movement believe that removing children from institutions is not the best thing but the right thing to do for children. This is because family based care has been proved to be the best form of care for children.
The Kenya government is joining the movement. Through the department of children services, the government brought together stakeholders in the alternative child care sector to discuss the road map to start the deinstitutionalization of children.
In the forum, it was revealed that there over 820 registered charitable children institutions in Kenya with over 45,000 children. It was however noted this number could be higher than that, because there are many institutions that are not registered and hence not in the government data base. There are 29 statutory children institutions with a total of 2900 children, which according to the department of children services is a great improvement considering less than 10 years ago one institution use to have an average of 250 children.
In his opening remarks Mr. Noah Sanganyi, the Director of Children services noted that the institutionalization movement is one that Kenya can not be left behind and the government of Kenya is committed to ensure that children grow up in an enabling environment. He reiterated the governments commitment to the process by noting that the process has been included in the DCS plans for the next few years, he urged the participants to support the governments efforts by developing the deinstitutionalization road map not only for the department of children services but the whole country.
The participants in the forum acknowledged that the process was not going to be easy, because of several reasons including existing of institutions, lack of understanding of the deinstitutionalization term, over reliance of institutions as a social welfare services and limited funds to other forms of alternative care.
The participants agreed that it is important to look at institutionalization as part of the greater alternative care reforms and not just closing orphanages; Family strengthening should be the core of the process, this including parenting classes; The need to leverage on the on going legal framework change, to strengthen other forms of alternative care such as fostering: Strengthen the data collection system at the institutions sector of DCS and increase evidence based advocacy work at the community level.
It was a greed the forum was the first step towards the right direction to ensure that children have a family based care. A small team of experts was selected to develop a draft road map towards deinstitutionalization.
Jennifer Kaberi, is a child development policy expert, she is a team leader at Mtoto News.
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