Thousands of children in need of care and protection or in conflict with law live in institutions. This has proven to be detrimental for their development and well-being, so there is nowadays a worldwide general trend of deinstitutionalization of children care, and one of the best ways to go seems to be foster care.
Foster care was one of the main topics of the workshop given by ICDI’s Bep van Sloten and Nico van Oudenhoven – and funded by WereldOuders – two weeks ago in Guatemala to over 40 professionals working for Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH).
NPH consists of a network of child care services in eight Central and Latin American countries and in Haiti. In addition to coping with massive poverty, these countries have in common that many of its peoples are young. For example, in Guatemala, over 55 % of the population is younger than 24 years of age (the figure for the Netherlands is 28%). They also share unordinary exposure to toxic conditions such as inequity, discrimination and injustice. These circumstances, exacerbated by high levels of corruption, violence and extreme poverty, cause many parents to falter or trip up. In spite of all this, these nations have made outstanding progress. As an example Guatemala again: in 1966 the Infant Mortality Rate stood at 131, and the Under Five Mortality Rate at 188; in 2016 they were down to 24 and 28 respectively.
In existence for over a generation, NPH originally provided exclusively 24/7 residential care, education and protection to thousands of children whose families were not capable of providing them with the support they needed. Now, NPH is the vanguard of dynamic processes of change, as it is experimenting, introducing and promoting an ever-expanding range of alternative services that focus forcefully on the best interests of each individual child.
NPH has taken the lead in sponsoring family-reintegration as the preferred approach in some of their countries, in particular in Honduras, and is carving out and creating an array of ways to meet the needs and aspirations of children. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child occupies the central stage of their policies and practices, and activities such as family-reintegration and family support are at the core of this work.
The main goals of the workshop were to boost this new approach with international expertise and guidance, to support participants in resolving the challenges they are facing, and to enable the exchange of best practices among NPH staff operating in different countries. The psychosocial impact of reintegration and non-integration on children, their families, and – not be forgotten – on residential caregivers, was discussed, in relation to both children who are integrated, and those who have to remain in residential care. In the ensuing lively discussions, issues related to trauma and attachment were also debated.
The importance of case management was stressed, good practices from the countries currently implementing the reintegration programme were shared, and it was demonstrated that NPH indeed is putting in the extra mile to support families and their communities.
The workshop provided space for intense discussions and exchanging of ideas, experience as well as uncertainties and anxieties. Some participants appeared to have more experience with reintegrating children into their families and communities, while others had made progress with developing alternative forms of care, education and protection. The workshop enabled all to share their experiences and learn from each other, and jointly move forward.
It was a delight for Bep and Nico to interact with such highly-professional, motivated, creative and welcoming NPH staff and to share experiences, knowledge and feelings with them and jointly push forward policies and practices that benefit children and their families.