Saturday, July 29, 2017

Calamities conjure concerns for child care

  • The stereotypical nature of the human mind may cause the term ‘adoption’ to pop into thought
  • Concerned authorities call for ‘Child care reforms’ due to the presence of institutes not conducive to the healthy development of  children
  • Foster care is parenting given to a child by an adult who may or may not be related as a member of the family.
Devastation struck Sri Lanka on December 26, 2004 leaving behind a morbid atmosphere in the country. That was the year of the tidal wave. The tsunami brought in waves of destruction, drowning the entire island in cries of grievances and tears of lamentations. Among those lost in the lamentations of the departure of loved ones and engulfed in a sense of destitution and despair were children. Many children were left displaced due to the untimely demise of their family members whose lives had been engulfed by the depths of the dark water catastrophe.  

 2017 has been yet another year where the people have been facing a string of natural catastrophes where many lives were once again lost. The eruption of natural calamities in the country leaves us with restlessness, as a country smack in the middle of the Indian Ocean is very much prone to facing the fury of Mother Nature. We can be assured that this isn’t the last time that we will hear of such events. In the wake of disaster, the vulnerable victims to suffer emotionally are women and children. Children are especially at risk when disaster strikes as they face the probability of being displaced when the lives of their parents or caregivers are taken away. The past turn up of adverse natural phenomena this year has rung the alarming bells calling for the promotion of child care reforms. This is largely due to a proper care mechanism for children not being in operation in the country. This can be an inconvenience especially when a child displacement occurs during a natural disaster, something we have experienced in the bygone days this year.  

SOS Children’s homes Sri Lanka (SOS CVSL), an organization ever engaged in endeavours carried out for the betterment of children throughout the island, yet again pursues another advocacy effort. This organization is calling to attention the appalling need in the promotion of care reforms to be exercised in the case of children displaced or orphaned in the country, especially at a time of natural calamity. SOS CVSL National Advisor for Advocacy Chathuri Jayasooriya, stressed that it’s during times of disaster that the importance of child care reforms are most highlighted and called for. “Care reforms are a dire need for child welfare in the country as a whole. The recent natural disasters which have left many children displaced, call for them urgently,” stressed Jayasooriya.
The present mechanism of alternative care we find here isn’t child friendly, especially within the context of institutionalization. Secondary victimization within institutionalization is also not uncommon 
Basically, a child receives the care and protection of its parents or guardian. But in the instance that a child is deprived of its caregiver- be it a parent or a guardian-due to an unfortunate event, the child has to be placed in alternative care. There are various forms of alternative care that a child can be placed under. These forms vary according to the needs of the child. Section 35 of the Children and Young Persons Ordinance (CYPO) articulates two forms of alternative care for children deprived of their present caregivers and thereby deprived of care and protection. One alternative is the most resorted to residential care in a children’s home while the other is the placement of the child with a ‘fit’ person. A ‘fit’ person, as we call it, is referred to as one who provides foster care to a child who could either be a relative or non-relative willing to undertake care of the child. Foster care is parenting given to a child by an adult who may or may not be related as a member of the family. Although parental care is provided to the child in foster care, it’s only a temporary assumption of parental responsibility. However, the duration of the fostering period could range from a short period to as long as a number of years. Unlike in the case of adoption, permanent parental rights won’t be acquired by the caregivers under both methods of alternative care. These caregivers also won’t acquire the legal status of the child nor will the status of parents be altered. During the duration of placement, the parental responsibility of the child will be temporarily transferred to the manager of the children’s home or the ’fit’ person.   

According to Jayasooriya, the existing predominant form of alternative care in the country- which is the placement of children in children’s homes- has created a sense of institutionalization within its framework. This has provided an ill wind on the holistic development of the child, stunting it in the process. “The present mechanism of alternative care we find here isn’t child friendly, especially within the context of institutionalization. Secondary victimization within institutionalization is also not uncommon. Although the UN guidelines discourage children under three years being institutionalized, this is rampant in our setting,”explained Jayasooriya. 

Exploring other methods of alternative care is essential to move away from institutionalization. Foster care has yet to be given serious consideration. The national advocacy advisor of SOS CVSL stated that while foster care provided to a child under a relative is practiced in the country, foster care by a non-relative isn’t much in effect in our social setting due to the obstacle of monitoring limitations. “Despite legal provisions being made in the CYPO for the implementation of children being placed with fit persons-through the probationary care procedure- the actual implementation lacks muscle. Although the mechanism is presently used in kinship foster care, it’s virtually not exploited in the case of non-kinship care due to monitoring challenges,” she said. But Jayasooriya envisions foster care as a concept that could be encouraged, but must be properly monitored especially in the wake of natural catastrophes that displace many children by depriving them of their families and homes. She further stated that foster care has proven to be a successful form of alternative care in countries such like Georgia, Malawi and Moldova.   

Avoiding institutionalization isn’t easy, but when horizons are broadened, practical possibilities do cross the mind. Group foster care is one such child friendly method. Its model is similar to that adopted by the SOS children’s villages. “It enables children to enjoy the comfort of a family, though not necessarily a biological one,” said Jayasooriya further adding that the sense of kinship created within such a system with fellow ‘siblings’ has a positive psychological impact on children.  
The stereotypical nature of the human mind may cause the term ‘adoption’ to pop into thought when the subject of alternative care is brought up. Adoption is considered another form of alternative care for children, but this option involves a permanent change in the legal state of the child and the parent. Adoption in certain scenarios also proves to be emotionally exhausting. “This is a very lengthy judicial process which could cause psychological dilemma to both the child and the adoptive parents,”explained Jayasooriya.

No form of alternative care outshines the other and no form of alternative care is deemed better than the rest. Each option is withheld in its own ground of benefits and which alternative is decided most suitable depends on the circumstance and differs from child to child. What has to be ensured is that the sprouting of such institutions isn’t created within the framework of these child care alternatives, reinforced with systemic surveillance. “It’s indeed a very ambitious move with a lot of dialogue and commitment required from the state and other relevant stakeholders especially in terms of determining what kind of care is required and following up, assuring the best interest of the child,” she said. 
National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) Chairperson Marini De Livera too elaborated on the urgency of care reforms and the withdrawal from institutionalization. She asserted that the NCPA receives several complaints regarding various forms of abuse and anomalies taking place in children’s homes almost every day. She further stated that it’s crucial to move away from institutionalization and to explore other care options for children who have lost family care. “For the year 2017, nine complaints have been made to the NCPA with regard to abuse and anomalies in children homes. After taking up my position as chairperson of the NCPA, I visited the SOS villages in Sri Lanka and spent some time there. I was very impressed with the system of care that was being followed by SOS CVSL. The SOS concept is a far cry from most of the orphanages that are functioning in Sri Lanka which are sadly not conducive to the healthy development of the children who are living there. I fully endorse the need for child care reforms and this richly deserves unstinted support,”
De Livera said.