Family Matters

Facebook and Twitter are great ways for us to keep you in the loop about our daily news, but sometimes it is just as important that we give you a bit more detail than posts or tweets allow.  How can they give you a rounded idea of the complexities of caring for 30 children or explain our outreach program?  Today we wanted to use this blog to give you a proper understanding of those by discussing two recent individual cases: Glory and Fanueli.

So how do we make sure keeping families together are central to our work, and that we are doing what is best for the children?

1.  Outreach Program – Providing support to keep families together at home

The central importance of families has been crucial to the way that The Small Things has expanded over the last year or so. Recognition that orphanage care is not always the most appropriate response to difficult situations led us to set up our outreach program, which helps families in need of support to keep their children at home.  This may involve giving weekly food packages, assisting in finding the parent a job or whatever will be of most help.

Individual case – Fanueli

Fanueli smiling with his after-lunch cake

The clearest example of the way this works is the case of Fanueli, a three year-old whose mother was struggling to care for him after his grandmother’s death. He is now coming in daily to attend the orphanage pre-school, where he receives breakfast, lunch and vitamins as well as education. By helping his mother a little with the cost of living, our outreach programme has meant that Fanueli has not needed residential care. His mother is now working for The Small Things at the orphanage, where she started with us as a cleaner but will hopefully end up as a fully trained mama with a secure income.

2.  When it is not possible for families to care for their child at home even with extra support

If a child has a caring parent then surely they shouldn’t be growing up in an orphanage?

This is a very good question: we are glad that it was raised and want to answer it properly.  We understand that you are concerned about the damaging effect of institutionalised care on children and, as has rightly been pointed out to us, orphanages as such no longer exist in most wealthy countries because they are seen to be damaging to children’s development.  However, recent research has showed that institutionalized care can be significantly less damaging than living in the community if the care in the community is not adequate.  Unfortunately, sometimes families or neighbours may not be able to give the child adequate care, even with our support, and it is at this point that the child may be accepted into the orphanage. For almost 20 years, our head mama watched an average of one third to one half of the children who left orphanage care at age 5 go back to the village and any living relatives and end up abused, neglected or dead within a year. The risks are not just theoretical, and this was the documented status quo for almost two decades. 

The Small Things is careful about the family situations of the children we take into the orphanage and committed to respecting the opinions of our local partners and the community we work in.  In line with this, there is a careful process in place to assess individual children and whether they should be accepted into the orphanage.

How we decide whether it is best for a new child to be accepted into the orphanage?
  1. Mama Pendo, the head mama at the orphanage, is always consulted. Often it is she who is first aware of the situation and starts the process.
  2. Each child is evaluated by Dr. Kiwesa, the hospital’s head doctor.
  3. Each child is assessed by out Tanzanian social worker and Tanzanian outreach worker.

Only if they are all unanimous that the child cannot be adequately cared for with their family, even if we offered them outreach support, do we take them into residential care.

If the child is accepted into the orphanage, what do we do to keep families connected?

Maintaining contact
The recognition that families are important structures all of our work. For example, the children’s relatives are encouraged to come and visit them whenever they can – Farajah’s older sister comes to the orphanage day care center most weekdays, and sleeps with her grandmother at night, since she is old enough not to need 24/7 care. We recognise that just because a family doesn’t have the capacity to look after a very young child, this does not mean this will always be the case or that they want to lose contact. Hopefully at some point Farajah will be able to return to them, just like Neema, who was able to move back to her family last year.

Here’s Farajah’s older sister Maureen popping in for a visit.

Visiting during holidays
We also try to make it possible for the older children who are at school to spend their school holidays with their extended families, if they are willing to host them, often with food support. For example, Isaak and Auntie are currently back with their father until the beginning of the new term, when they will return to the pilot house. Anna is with her grandmother, and Queen is with her father. 

Individual case – Glory

Glory with Victoria, one of our volunteers

Recently we told you the story of Glory, whose father has been struggling to look after her for nearly two years and who has recently come to live at the orphanage because he can’t give her what she needs. As a snapshot social media post, this understandably raised some concern among some engaged and responsible readers. 

However, Glory’s father had been made homeless and needed time to get back on his feet before he could adequately care for Glory.  At her father’s request, it was unanimously decided that Glory would benefit from residential care.  This will allow her to receive the proper healthcare, nutrition and attention which she needs until she can be reunited with her father.  He is now working for The Small Things as a security guard, which has given him an income and allowed him to see Glory regularly. We aim to get her back to her father in the long term so that she can have the family life that is thankfully still available to her.
3. Happy Family Children’s Village

The importance of family is also the logic behind our larger project: Happy Family Children’s Village. We want our kids to grow up in the closest thing to a family possible, so we are structuring the Children’s Village in family-style houses, where children of different ages will grow up together as siblings with caregivers that they know well.

Thinking about what is best for the children is complicated and we are so glad that you are engaged with what we are doing.  By committing to consider the impact on the wider community and the families of the children, and by working on a case by case basis, we hope that we are able to come to decisions that benefit the children the most, in the long term as well as the short.
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