What ONETrack International Does
Starting out as a program to confront the orphan crisis in the Republic of Cameroon, CameroonONE and ONETrack International are dedicated to the transitioning of orphaned children from over-crowded and under-resourced institutionalized care back into family environments. The Republic of Cameroon was faced with over a million orphaned children with very few measures dedicated to their protection, wellbeing, and housing. Many children, often left to fend for themselves or finding themselves the victim of exploitation, were found to have caring parents or relatives who were incapable of providing sufficient care due to circumstances such as conflict, exploitation, poverty, lack of education, natural disaster, and/or disability and illness. In order to confront this crisis, CameroonONE focused their support on family-preservation efforts, allowing surviving relatives to resume caring for these children so that they may develop into resourceful, innovative citizens who will protect and strengthen their community.
CameroonONE’s In-Home Child Sponsorship program has been proven to be one of the most efficient methods of ensuring that orphaned children can remain valued members within their communities of birth. With the priority of keeping families together at the forefront of CameroonONE’s mission, those relatives taking on parental responsibilities of an orphaned child are supported through financial, material and household provisions. In turn, this support allows the family to provide a suitable education, healthcare, and security to those children in their care. By keeping Cameroonian communities and families together, CameroonONE has taken on the mantle of the international community to protect parentless children from losing their cultural ties, reach their potential through education, and reduce child mortality by ensuring generations of orphaned children are spared institutionalized care through community education and strengthening.
ONETrack International continues the work of CameroonONE throughout the globe, promoting the care of parentless children and vulnerable families by supporting programs that work with orphaned children, within the Transition to Home context. ONETrack aims to reduce short-term poverty through family preservation initiatives and advocacy, as well as long-term poverty by creating a more productive human capital among parentless children who may have otherwise received little or no education.
What is Reunification?
Reunification is the process in which orphaned or abandoned children are reintroduced into the home and community of their family of origin.
Institutionalized care serves an important purpose for parentless children, but, according to the international laws and standards highlighted by the Hague Adoption Convention (HCCH #33, 1993), the UN Declaration on the Protection and Welfare of Children (RES/41/85), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations Treaty Series, vol. 1577, No. 27531), orphanage care should be reserved for children who are unable to be placed within a family environment. Through reunification, ONETrack International works to relieve overcrowded and underfunded orphanages, reunite vulnerable families, and support communities in their building of family care infrastructure.
For children to have the most beneficial childhood, access to education, healthcare, good nutrition, culture, adult guidance, psychological support, and economic stability are essential. Therefore, proper reunification should include family-strengthening programs that provides guardians and caretakers with childrearing, livelihood, community, psychological, and basic living support. For those children who have been institutionalized due to the death of parents and older siblings, reunification focuses on maintaining ties with surviving relatives and supporting them with the tools they need to assume responsibility of the care of orphaned children.
In the context of our Partner Toolkit, the term “family care” will be considered birth, extended family, foster or adoptive homes, where children have either been reunited with the family of biological origin or permanently integrated into a family atmosphere with similar cultural ties. “Institutionalized care” will be considered state-run or privately-run non-family-based group homes, temporary transitional care, residential care, and large institutions such as orphanages, in which children are hosted together in a facility with trained or untrained professionals taking on the role of a twenty-four hour caregiver.
Why is it Important to Transition Children Back into Family Care?
Under the guidance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Resolution 217 A (III), it is has been internationally acknowledged that large-scale institutionalized care is no longer considered a successful practice for the healthy development of children. Overcrowding, insufficient funding, inconsistent caregiving, and limited community support is often associated with large-scale institutionalized care, making it difficult to cultivate the necessary life skills for becoming an active member of society. Children faced with inadequate care are at risk of being denied an environment that nurtures their development. It is found that depression, suicide, and drug abuse occur at a higher rate for orphaned adults who have transitioned out of large-scale institutionalized care. By keeping family units together and strengthening the ties of the community, children are able to maintain cultural traditions, form a bond with their heritage, and develop safely under the guidance of a caring adult to become secure, responsible, and productive adults.
Internationally, the family unit is considered the most nurturing environment for children. To allow family units to remain together, every effort should be focused on providing support services to separated and vulnerable families. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1577, No. 27531), UN Declaration on the Protection and Welfare of Children (RES/41/85), and UN guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children (RES/64/142) all acknowledge the wider advantages of providing family-preservation support, ensuring vulnerable families have access to food, health, and education services.
ONETrack International believes in and is supportive of orphanages and international adoption as an alternative for individual cases that lack other options. We support institutions and cross-border adoption by ensuring that each child’s situation has been researched and that only those without biological family should be considered for alternative family upbringings other than Transition to Home. Furthermore, we commend those who raise orphaned children that cannot be placed within their communities of birth.
Types of Family Care Models
When parental care is not possible, a search for an extended family member willing to care for the child is the first priority and is the most culturally appropriate care outside of parental care. Kinship care offers all the benefits of family care including providing a sense of belonging and family ties. Extended family may include uncles and aunts, adult siblings or cousins, close friends or neighbors, etc.
Non-relative foster care is a strong alternative when family members cannot be identified. Generally authorized and arranged by legal courts, screening prior to and during the transition is crucial to ensure children are entering safe and stable environments. The long-term viability of a foster care placement should be assessed to avoid multiple placements in foster care homes. Domestic foster care is prioritized to keep cultural ties and, if children are to be placed in foster care outside of their community, training in caring for children from a different culture is necessary.
Adoption is an option for children whenever returning to relative-based care is not possible. Typically authorized and arranged by legal courts, screening prior to placement and active engagement with all involved parties, including the child, is critical to ensure children are entering safe and stable environments. Domestic adoption is prioritized so children can remain connected to cultural ties. The UN Declaration on the Protection and Welfare of Children and The Hague Adoption Convention state that international adoption should only be considered if other arrangements cannot be made for the child in her or his country of origin.
Models Strengthening Family Care
Each case begins with an assessment of the child and family situation before mobilizing resources, as support should address the root causes related to the abandonment and promote the well-being of the child. If vulnerable families can be identified prior to separation, preventing the splitting of families is preferred. Ultimately, policies and operations should be working with the aim of diverting their support towards preventative services and community building to strengthen the capacity of vulnerable families to look after their children.
The psychological and physical needs of the children must always be at the forefront of assessments and if a child is in danger of any kind, temporary or transitional care (respite, emergency care, rehabilitation, or small group homes) can be utilized while the family unit receives resources and support. Furthermore, during the process of reunification, it may be necessary to provide a child with a more suitable form of alternative care, such as foster care or small group homes. The decision to relocate children should be regularly reviewed to ensure children are returned to their family environment in a timely but considered manner.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1577, No. 27531) should be considered when making decisions regarding a child’s new family environment. Gatekeeping, the process in which families and children are assessed at all levels to ensure a safe and caring environment, is the most important aspect of the reunification process. Effective gatekeeping ensures decisions are made in a rational, planned and prudent manner, and that resources are distributed effectively. Those responsible for gatekeeping and assessing options for best care should always be seeking out families within the child’s community of birth that are stable, safe and nurturing environments.
For a thriving childhood, access to the following are necessary:
- adult guidance
- psychological support
- economic stability
The resources necessary to provide these conditions can be divided into the following five support categories: parental, livelihood, community, psychological, and basic living. These five categories should be offered as a comprehensive support package, although, depending on the circumstances, a family may not need all support in all categories.
1) Parental Support
Providing caregivers with the tools to parent can address childrearing techniques that are counteractive or detrimental, as well as, ensuring parents understand the essentials for healthy development. This can include advice in preparing nutritious meals, appropriately tackling child behavioral problems, conflict resolution, and/or creating a safe, predictable and supportive family environment. If working with vulnerable families prior to child separation, encouraging awareness of issues being facing should be approached sensitively and social norms for the community should always be taken into account when giving advice. Parental support may extend to creating awareness of government policies on the protection and wellbeing of children, and of resources in the area, including non-governmental initiatives, providing healthcare, education, and security.
2) Community support
The sense of belonging to a community is an important aspect of raising a family and can be lacking in vulnerable or isolated families. For this reason, it is best that children be transitioned into family care within their community of origin or one that is culturally similar, when possible. Community support may come in the form of access to support groups, daycare, youth programs, respite care, special needs services, and spiritual guidance. These services not only assist caregivers in their responsibilities, but also provide the opportunity for children to socialize, learning to form healthy relationships and partaking in community networks.
3) Livelihood Support
In many cases, providing family members with the skills and capital to engage in livelihoods will be necessary to feed and support the children. Capacity building can come in many forms including a stipend, grants, material support, food, agricultural supplies, microcredit loans, small business training, vocational training, and legal advice on property and inheritance. Strategies offered to families should complement the available community products and services as well as existing government welfare initiatives. Additionally, assistance in managing finances and debts should be provided to the head household members. A commitment from caregivers to actively participate in proposed initiatives is necessary for success and, therefore, support should be provided only after discussion with the family. Poverty should never be considered a motive for removing a child from parental or relative care, but rather an indicator for timely support.
Children of vulnerable families are at risk of dropping out of school to care for other family members or contribute to family income. Efforts from livelihood and community support should work towards children having less responsibility in supporting the family household.
4) Psychosocial Support
Psychological support for caregivers and children is particularly important for families who have experienced a distressing separation or traumatic events. Trauma can result in children undergoing a range of behavioral issues including anxiety, difficulties with attachment, sleep disturbances, dependency issues, and/or regression. Each child will handle experiences differently and, therefore, psychosocial support needs to be approached on an individual basis with a thorough assessment of the scope of issues and the child’s coping mechanisms. Parental and child interventions should be accessed within the community and may come in the form of therapy, substance abuse treatment, psychiatry, home visits, group support meetings, and counseling. Child-focused activities should empower children, promoting self-confidence, relationship building and a sense of control over their lives, as well as safeguard the child’s right to identity, freedom, religion, and opinion.
5) Basic Living Support
Basic living support should complement existing amenities in the community that provide similar services, such as secure housing, clothing, school supplies, clean running water, electricity, primary healthcare, family planning, medications, nutritious food, transport, and primary and secondary education. An assessment should be performed to better understand the cost of living in the area, including costs associated with going to school, paying rent, medical insurance, and household bills.
Implementing Transition to Home Programs
Reunification programs are designed to find a permanent family for a child, either in the form of custody, guardianship, or adoption. Transition to Home can take years to complete, not including ongoing monitoring and evaluation required after a successful placement. For this reason, it is necessary to provide clear expectations to all stakeholders. It is important to remember that the process of transitioning children back into family homes should be driven by the child’s needs and, therefore, requires a case-by-case approach. Children should be consulted and have their perspectives considered and prioritized throughout the following process:
1) Understand government standards and priorities regarding family reunification
· Identify resources and services available to prevent family separation.
· Identify existing policies working towards transitioning children out of institutionalized care.
· Identify the laws surrounding child protection.
· Identify the national procedures for responding to children in abusive, exploitive or violent homes.
2) Understand the community
Transition to Home will have an impact on families not directly benefitting from the program and, therefore, should not be implemented without assessing the community and identifying potential obstacles to a successful reunification.
· Gather testimonials from the community on the perception of orphanages, orphans, professionals working in child protection, and the social stigmas of vulnerable families.
· Identify and meet stakeholders in the community working with orphan-care and child services.
· Understand the economic setting of the community.
· Determine the risks a child faces being reintroduced back into the community.
· Determine the cost of living for the area.
· Determine the cost of schooling and health care services in the area.
· Raise awareness within the community about the importance of family care models and the rights of children.
a. Engage in dialogue – forums speaking to community concerns with readily available information and shared experiences.
b. Address any stigma or discrimination that is associated with families suffering from sickness, poverty, single parenthood, legitimacy, and/or disability.
c. Address cultural stigmas associated with caring for children not biologically related.
d. Highlight the opportunity for new employment with an increase in community services focused on child and community care.
· Identify strengths in the community and gaps in community services that need to be supported.
a. Identify who provides childcare and family services.
b. Identify community organizations – religious and community groups.
c. Identify community services – education, health care, and community development.
d. Assess community infrastructure – transport, roads, electricity, housing, and water.
3) Identify potential partners and stakeholders
Form a steering committee by identifying partners, community leaders, host families, and service providers who are familiar with the situations of the children in the area and will be integral to a successful family care transition.
· Locate any national offices or commissions in the area dedicated to family welfare.
· Identify the location of key stakeholders responsible for implementing government policies, procedures, and services regarding child protection and wellbeing.
· Identify non-governmental and intergovernmental initiatives in the area that provide education, health care and protection to families.
· Identify and involve community leaders.
·Identify families in the area who are or have provided foster or adoptive family care environments.
· Assess the training components necessary to effectively carry out planned programs.
· Develop and build upon policies, laws, strategies and practical guidelines that promote long-term deinstitutionalization and set the foundation for robust gatekeeping processes and quality criteria.
· Ensure all partners have a clear understanding of their responsibility and role within the gatekeeping system.
4) Identify vulnerable families and potential beneficiaries
· Speak with the child/beneficiary. Every effort should be made to engage with the child in their native language to ensure full understanding.
· Identify the emotional effects of family separation.
· Investigate any possible traumatic events that have occurred within the family.
· Ascertain the age the child was removed.
· Determine if there is contact between the child and any living relatives.
· Involve the child in deciding on the transition approach, taking into account his/her level of maturity.
5) Partner with the host family
· The approach taken to meet the needs of families and children will differ and, therefore, flexibility is necessary for setting goals and developing partnerships.
· Interview the family and assess family living requirements to determine the support that will be needed.
· Set family goals.
· Outline steps for achieving longer-term community-based basic living services, such as clean water, transport to schools, and electrical power.
· Identify and set fair expectations.
· Determine the cost of living for the area.
· Determine the cost of schooling and health care services in the area.
6) Monitoring and Evaluation programs
Monitoring will need to involve the community, thus, engaging with community members is vital to a successful transition:
· Evaluate the effectiveness of training and education provided to caregivers.
· Evaluate the effectiveness of community education by assessing community understanding and embracing of transitioning children out of institutionalized care.
· Continue to reassess family goals, making adjustments to expectations and assistance if outputs are not achieving the community, child and family needs.
Programs will need to be assessed on both an individual and broader scale:
· Consider the number of children enrolled in the program.
· Collate data collected individually to assess the ability of programs to provide appropriate services, to utilize community services, and to maintain partnerships with caretakers, children, and communities.
Methods used to assess communities and families include:
· Unscheduled and scheduled visits to the home.
· Unscheduled and scheduled visits to school and healthcare providers.
· Monitoring the establishment and quality of services.
· Semi-structured interviews with community providers.
· Focus groups with community leaders and individuals.
· Community field observations.
· Childhood success markers such as school attendance, behavior, health, and grades.