A recent study in Nepal (UNICEF and Terres des Hommes - 2008) found that 62% of children in residential care do not need to be institutionalised - they do in fact have someone who, with support, could care for them at home. Further, of those children in institutions who still had parents alive, 89% were institutionalised due to family poverty.
Poverty alone should never be a reason for admission to institutional care. Poverty indicates a need for support at the household level, and does not mean a child should be separated from his or her parents.
From a child protection perspective therefore, support must be provided to families and children to prevent children being placed in institutions and to instead ensure that the child can safely remain in their home and community. This is a key activity of the process known as deinstitutionalisation and is the focus of HFHK's Family Support Program.
HFHK's Family Support Program works with at-risk children, their families and the community to prevent children being unnecessarily institutionalised in Nepal. This includes providing an integrated support service, advocacy and awareness so that the child can remain in their home and community.
With a rising profile in Pokhara and the surrounding districts, HFHK has been receiving many requests for assistance by local government and municipal authorities (mostly rural, District Child Welfare Board, Women's Development Office) regarding children who have recently been orphaned or abandoned and who are at immediate risk of being institutionalised.
Upon the receipt of an official request to assist a vulnerable child or children, an HFHK Case Worker will visit the village and fully investigate the circumstances of the referred children. This includes conducting discussions and interviews with the referral organisation; the children themselves; relatives of the children; VDC (Village Development Committee) chief; Aama Samuha (Mother's Group); and local school headmaster or senior teachers to build an accurate picture of the children's individual needs.
Depending on the outcome of these visits, emergency short-term assistance is usually provided to ensure the children have sufficient food, adequate and safe shelter etc. HFHK then works with the local community to develop a long-term care plan, which includes seeking as much assistance from the community as possible (scholarships, electricity connection, building toilets etc) before providing the remaining requirements (income generation, clothing, education etc) so the children can remain safely in their village with the assistance of the local community.
Since it began, HFHK's Family Support Program, in co-operation with the local communities, has provided assistance to over 35 children in different rural villages surrounding the Pokhara area and we are continuing to receive a steady stream of referrals from the relevant authorities.
Before (left) and after (right). A HFHK-supported family from Tanahun District