The Child Reintegration Centre has launched its initiative to rescue street children, collaborating with local organization Street Child UK, which estimates there are as many as 6,500 children living on the streets of Bo. These children may have escaped violence in the home, or they may have been abandoned by parents who are too poor to provide for them. They are in desperate need of shelter, food, education, and a family to love them. This is the case with Momodu and Momoh, brothers identified by Street Child and rescued by the CRC.
Momodu, 14 and Momoh, 12, are from a family of 10 children, of whom four died. The family, originally from a village near Bo, began to fall apart when their mother fled the abuse of her alcoholic husband. She took her daughter, but left the five boys to fend for themselves. Momodu soon ran away, landing on the streets of Bo. He survived by begging for empty cartons from shop owners, which he sold to market women for a few cents. Sometimes he sold metal scraps that he gathered from garages.
Eventually Momodu tired of the rough street life and returned to his village, but the home situation had not changed. His father gave him and his brother Momoh a little money to travel to their auntie's home in Bo, where two of their brothers had gone to escape the turmoil of their home. Sadly, their aunt also turned them away because she had no room for them.
Alone and abandoned, Momodu and Momoh had nowhere to turn but the street. They washed dishes for a woman who sold food at night. In payment, she gave them a little food and money. They slept in market stalls, where they were discovered by Street Child UK, who referred them to the CRC.
The CRC staff brought the brothers into the interim home, took them to Mercy Hospital for testing, and began counseling. The CRC is tracing their family to identify a safe home for them. They want to go back to school, but for the time being, they are so happy to be at the CRC.
The United Nations has formally adopted The Resolution on the Rights of the Child committing the 193 member nations to gradually shift support away from institutionalization of orphans and abandoned children, to focus on reintegrating children to families. The resolution includes a commitment to ensure that children leaving institutional care receive adequate support for their transition to family-based care. The Child Reintegration Centre was an early adapter of family reintegration , ending the residential program in 2018 to focus entirely on reintegration and family-based care. Helping Children Worldwide is one of 250 organizations supporting the UN's resolution.
1MILLIONHOME/HCW Family Reunification Workshop
HCW, 1MILLIONHOME and the Sierra Leone Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs (MSWGCA) are collaborating to hold a reintegration/transition workshop for orphanage directors, child welfare program leaders, and government officials from West Africa.
The workshop will be held in Freetown in Fall 2020. Program Development Director Laura Horvath describes the event as a hands-on workshop designed to equip participants with the tools they need to begin their own transition from institutional to family-based care, as recommended by the United Nations. (Read more about family reintegration here.)
MSWGCA Minister Mabinty Tarawallie will host a nationwide meeting with all registered child protection organizations to encourage attendance at the 1MILLIONHOME/HCW workshop. The CRC will be highlighted as a trailblazer in the movement to reintegrate children with their family of birth or a foster family.
Collaboration with Street Child to rescue abandoned children
The CRC staff have been collaborating with Street Child to provide interim care for abandoned children while their families are traced and prepared for reintegration. Street Child has a long history in Sierra Leone providing short term and emergency care to homeless children. "I am very excited about the CRC taking the lead to work side by side to get children off the streets, Child Welfare Programs Liaison Mohamed Nabieu says. "The MSW Minister's goal is to take 1,000 kids off the streets by the end of this year, and she would be working with the CRC to support her goal."
The CRC continues to build a robust case management system, hiring additional case managers to effectively and efficiently monitor the welfare of children and families.
CRC mentors orphanages transitioning to family care
The CRC is launching a Deinstitutionalization department focused on helping orphanages transition from residential to family care. Led by long time CRC team member David Musa, the DI Department will assess an organization's readiness for transition, teach the organization how to develop a transition plan, and coach their staff through the process. The DI Department will coach orphanages on safe, collaborative, and sustainable family reintegration, as well as family strengthening and sustainability.
Child Welfare Programs Liaison Mohamed Nabieu represented HCW at World Without Orphans' global forum in Chiang Mai, Thailand last month. WWO's mission is helping children remain in, be reunited with, or regain a healthy family, so that they can reach their God-given purpose. As a "care leaver" (someone who grew up in an orphanage) Mohamed was a featured speaker at the conference. In addition to presenting as a care leaver, Nabs was a co-presenter with Andrew Schneidler of 1MillionHome, sharing the Child Reintegration Centre's experience transitioning from an institutional model of care to a family-based model. HCW/CRC is a globally recognized leader in care reform and in how to transition to family-based care.
"Keeping families together should play a pivotal role in childcare. Family is firmly entrenched into our bloodlines and DNA, and it is through a family that secure attachment and healthy relationships are born," Mohamed told the attendees. "Poverty being the driving force for separating families, taking children and putting them into orphanages just deepens the separation by adding emotional and psychological aftermath to it. Part of God's design, families as natural systems, are meant to uphold each other through both favorable and odd seasons. With poverty and other crisis, orphanages or institutions for children should not take the lead as the only and ongoing solution."
"Families may be poor in providing the materialistic support to their children, but they are rich in providing genuine love to them. Our role as leaders is to partner with them for their success at all levels," he concluded. HCW is collaborating with WWO and other child-focused organizations to support the global movement to help children grow up in caring families, instead of institutions.
Attendees learned strategies for family reintegration and preparation of foster and adoptive families, as well as case management tools for assessing children's well-being.
You are all Christian leaders. You do the uncomfortable thing because it is right. You do the hard thing, the right thing. It is possible, and it can be done. You can move those children to loving homes, we have done it, so it can be done!
Last month, HCW’s Child Welfare Programs Liaison Mohamed Nabieu (Nabs) presented about his experience growing up in an orphanage to a special panel at the 1MILLIONHOME/Agape Family Reintegration Workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. Nabs, Ruth Wacuka and Peter Mthui (both from Kenya) shared their experiences as "care leavers," children who age out of institutional care without being placed in a family. The care leavers are on a mission to help child welfare advocates understand the impact of growing up in an institution, and encourage the the reintegration of families. The panel presentation was extremely well-received by the workshop participants, prompting many follow-up questions.
Having grown up in different countries and orphanages, the stories of Peter, Ruth and Nabs are unique, but they share many similarities. They are passionate and compelling advocates for children in institutional care, and their stories are gaining a great deal of interest among child welfare programs around the world. The trio will be presenting again at the World Without Orphans Global Forum in Chiang Mai, Thailand this October.
Helping Children Worldwide is partnering with the 1MILLIONHOME Foundation to prepare and host a week-long Family Reintegration Workshop in Sierra Leone in 2020. When 1MILLIONHOME learned that the CRC was the first Sierra Leonean orphanage to successfully complete this transition, they offered to help support the workshop so that the CRC staff can train other orphanage directors and government officials to learn how to transition their own programs to family-based care.
The care leavers had five minutes each to tell their stories, excerpted below:
The care leavers’ presentations were followed by an audience Q&A.
Nabs: “[The Child Rescue Centre] continues to support the children’s education after they leave the orphanage, but now they live with families, building bonds, trust, and relationship. [The CRC] continues to support the child. We have done something very simple. Everything stays the same, we have just changed the sleeping location of the child. Our organization is now focused on family empowerment, micro finance training, and case management. We are building the family’s dignity to care for their own child. When a family becomes empowered, they are then able to mentor other families.”
Ruth: “I recommend Singing to the Lions (A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Violence in Our Lives, by Catholic Relief Services) a 10 week program to address trauma. Living in care and exiting cause trauma. Children need one on one counseling with a therapist. So many out there are still not able to talk about their experience.
Peter: “We are good at reacting, not pro-acting. Rather than thinking about how to fix what is broken, let’s focus on the kids in institutional care now - how can we get them home and end the cycle of trauma sooner?”
Nabs closed the care leavers presentation with words of motivation and encouragement. “We must address the cause, not the symptom. We rescue these children from the crisis, but we don’t address the cause of their crisis. Then when they go back home, they’re back in the crisis. You are all Christian leaders. You do the uncomfortable thing because it is right. You do the hard thing, the right thing. It is possible, and it can be done. You can move those children to loving homes, we have done it, so it can be done!”
“We are all broken, but it is well,” Nabs concluded.
Peter, Nabs, and Ruth had the opportunity to meet with 1MILLIONHOME COO Michele Schneidler and pastor and author Francis Chan, who was also a presenter at the conference.