Based on the CRC’s success reintegrating children out of residential care to live with their forever families, the CRC is launching a Reintegration Department to help other orphanages learn how to make the same transition. The CRC is the first residential program in Sierra Leone to transition to a family-based model of care for vulnerable children. In 2000, the CRC began rescuing street children in the waning days of the civil war. During that desperate time, there was no way to trace families, and the parents of abandoned children were presumed dead. Out of necessity, the children were placed in residential care for their safety.
In 2003, the CRC began extending assistance to children in extremely poor families through the auspices of the Child Support and Family Care Programs, providing different levels of support depending on the needs of the child and their family. In 2010, the Sierra Leonean government passed a mandate that youth in residential care must be reunified to live in community, with a parent if they could be found, or with other relatives. The CRC’s residential program began scaling down, finally reuniting the remaining children with families in 2018.
With the residential program closed, the CRC’s entire focus shifted to empowering vulnerable families to stay together, and to reintegrating children separated from parental care back into safe and loving families. Through the CRC’s Family Strengthening Program, parents learn about healthy parent-child attachment and coping strategies. Few of the parents of children enrolled in the CRC are literate, and they may have been subjected to trauma or abandonment themselves, so these are new and important concepts for them. Parents have the opportunity to enroll in microfinance classes to learn small business skills (most parents survive through petty trading or sustenance farming), and upon graduation, receive a small loan to start or improve a business. The elements of the Family Strengthening Program work together to help families move away from the desperate measures imposed by extreme poverty towards longer term solutions and stability.
The CRC’s new Reintegration Department will help other organizations in West Africa learn how to strengthen families and provide them with the tools they need to stay together, instead of being torn apart by poverty. Led by long time CRC team member David Musa, the Reintegration Department will assess an organization’s readiness for transition, teach the organization’s leaders how to develop a transition plan, and coach their staff through the process. As one of the key implementers of the CRC’s reintegration process, David is uniquely equipped to lead other orphanages to a family-centric model. The CRC and HCW are collaborating with 1MILLIONHOME (www.1millionhome.com) to hold a multi-national workshop for orphanages in West Africa who are interested in learning how to transition from institutional to family care. The workshop, with the whole-hearted support of Sierra Leone Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs Mabinty Tarawallie, will be held in Freetown in October 2020.
Reintegration Manager David Musa visits the home of John, who was recently reintegrated with his family after being separated by the Ebola crisis.
If we can encourage other organizations to reunite their kids with families, it will be an excellent marker for the CRC. And it will be good for Sierra Leone.