Child protection services in Cuba: Jorge's story

Homes for children without family protection provide them with life conditions similar to a family home

By Marta López Fesser
Jorge poses with his friends
UNICEF Cuba/2016/López Fesser
18 January 2017

HAVANA, Cuba, 18 January 2017 – Jorge had to move house four years ago. At the passing of his mother and without any other family member who could take care of him, he fell into the care of Cuba’s child protective services.

Jorge has spent four years in a home for boys, girls and adolescents without family protection which, only months after leaving it, he describes as his own home.

“It was difficult for me at the beginning, when I first arrived, but the director helped me and the other children accepted me immediately,” says Jorge. “What I like most is to go out to the beach, because we meet new people. But we also make visits among the households and we have a good time.”

One of the main purpose of such activities is to encourage exchange with children and adolescents from the local area, and get in contact with the cultural, social and political life of the place where they live.

Homes for children and adolescents without family protection, managed by the Cuban Ministry of Education, are centres that provide children with life conditions similar to a family home. Children may find themselves without family protection following the death or abandonment of their parents or because a parent has been sentenced to prison or is suffering from a serious psychiatric illness.

During their stay in these institutions, they have guaranteed medical care, accommodation, meals, school uniform, clothing and footwear, as well as a stipend for personal expenses. They study in education institutions of the national education system that facilitates their school and social integration and prepares them for higher studies or access to employment with technical training.

From 2014, UNICEF has supported the protection for children and adolescents between 0 and 18 years of age and without family, in order to improve the quality of their care.

“With the support of UNICEF, household workers are more highly qualified to advise and give love, and have the necessary tools to manage each individual case. Despite all their ailments and sorrows, these children feel that they are surrounded by people who not only work hard for them, but who understand them and can help them,” says Adelaide Espinosa, Assistant Director of el Cotorro home.

UNICEF helps improve the living conditions in the households and contributes to the training and methodological exchange of the staff working in these institutions. About 400 children and almost 700 educational agents in 48 homes all over the country are the direct beneficiaries of this project.

Ana Belkis Barbán, Director of the Mayabeque home for the past 17 years, values above all UNICEF’s support in the methodological training of households, and says she has noted a significant improvement in this area.

Jorge studied car body repair work for two years at school until graduation. It is a mandatory condition that young people must finish their studies before leaving the home.

When they are 18 years old and are able to move to independent living, the home arranges their return to their own home if they have a family, or they receive a house granted by the local government. They remain in contact for a period of time until they adapt to their new circumstances, although the emotional ties established in the institution often endure.

“This way they leave the home behind having their own house, having completed their studies and with a way of life... and we are confident that we have prepared them well for life,” explains Ms. Espinosa.

“I am sure I will go back to visit the director and my friends. What I want most is to open myself to society, find new friends and have a girlfriend,” says Jorge.