In Uganda the state of institutional care is shocking, there are an estimated 600 child care institutions in the country, home to tens of thousands of children. 30% of these institutions don’t have a single qualified social worker. Therefore, children do not receive the individualised care they need, nor the professional counselling services to support them through the trauma of their scenario. Most lack any sort of child protection policy, leaving children vulnerable to violence and abuse. For some, even their basic needs are not met; many orphanages failed to test for HIV. We know that institutional care is detrimental to children’s wellbeing; this is even more so in Uganda.
Contrary to popular belief, most children do not end up in institutional care because of parental death. It is estimated that, globally, 85% of children in orphanages have at least one surviving parent. Studies show that poverty is the main cause. Parents living in poverty may send their children to such orphanages as the only means of providing basic material goods. In doing so, they leave their children vulnerable to the detrimental effects of institutional care. This current system is costly, both in terms of resources and child welfare. Orphanages are using up resources doing a job that families could do, with the right support. In Uganda, over half of orphanages have no resettlement programmes, meaning that the children have no chance of returning to their families. Rather than putting funds into institutional care, we should use these funds to support families living in poverty, and train foster parents where the child is unable to be reunited with their family.
The Ewafe project is working to change this system. It recognises the need for immediate emergency care for abandoned children, and offers them safe temporary accommodation. From then on, we work to trace their family members. We provide resources and education in order to facilitate successful resettlement. If reunification is not possible, we work to place that child in foster care, still providing the advantages of family based child care. To target the problem in the long term, the Ewafe project invests in training foster parents, such that abandoned children will always have the opportunity of growing up in a family, not an orphanage. Additionally, we are working to tackle poverty in these slum communities, through education, and initiatives like family income generation projects. We hope that this will reduce the rate of poverty induced child abandonment, and keep families together.
The Ewafe project adopts three main methods to address the problem of child abandonment. It provides emergency shelter for abandoned children. It pursues family reunification and foster parenting programmes that help place that child in family-based care. Finally, it engages with the community to tackle poverty, the root cause of child abandonment. The Ugandan government report gives us reason to have worries about the state of child care institutions in the country, alongside the substantial problems associated with institutionalised care demonstrated in a number of studies. These studies recommend transitions to alternative care systems, based around family-based forms of childcare. This is the recommendation of the UN, and the Ugandan government and other charities are actively working towards this end. KCK’s Ewafe project can play a vital role in that fight, in order to improve child welfare in Uganda.
Written by Brendan Jacot, a student at the University of Oxford, as part of the MicroInternship programme.