For Every Child, A Family
With the support of UNICEF, Dean, a seven-year-old child from Kitwe, has been reintegrated back into family after living in an Institutional Care Facility
“At around three months old, Dean* (not their real name) lost his mother and was taken in by my elder sister, who is his grandmother by marriage,” says 59-year-old Martha*. Martha is Dean’s grandaunt by marriage and lives in Kitwe with Dean and other nephews of hers. “Taking care of an infant who was on milk feed at the time was not easy for my sister. A few months later, Dean suffered from Kwashiorkor (a disease marked by severe protein malnutrition and bilateral extremity swelling) and was hospitalized. I was called in to help my elder sister in taking care of the baby at the time he was in hospital,” she adds.
In a situation where it becomes impossible for a caregiver to care for their child, it may be necessary to grant the responsibility to another person. “Since none of us could afford to meet *Dean’s dietary requirements after he was discharged from hospital; the Social Worker at the Hospital recommended that the child be placed in formal care, a child care facility,” shares Martha*
According to the children’s Code Act No. 12 of 2022, institutional care is a measure of last resort for caring and supporting children who are separated from their families. Children can get separated from their families for several reasons such as orphanhood, abandonment, child neglect, poverty, abuse and violence, among others.
“After a few months had passed, I left home one day to go and check on how Dean was doing. Not knowing his whereabouts, I went straight to the hospital to trace him, as that is where he was previously admitted. I met with the hospital’s staff and the Social Worker who had recommended that Dean be placed in a child-care facility and she informed me that the child had been handed over to Social Welfare in the presence of my sister. They then directed me to visit the District Social Welfare Office (DSWO), in Kitwe” says Martha.
The Social Welfare Department has the overall mandate for the care and protection of children in formal care and therefore is responsible for granting visitation permissions for children placed in child-care facilities and other formal child care arrangements. It is every child’s right to keep in contact with their family except if it is not to the child’s best interests. Permission letters are granted for each visit made to the facility as a child protection measure.
Sharing her experience of finding and meeting Dean after a long time, Martha fondly recalls, “It was always a joy to visit my grandson. After several visits, I was asked by the District Social Welfare Office if I was willing to take Dean home with me and take his custody. I agreed but then explained that I could not afford to fully fend for his needs. We set a date for the Social Welfare Officer to visit my home and assess the environment for Dean’s custody.”
The District Social Welfare Office further has the mandate of tracing the child’s family, visit the child’s family and undertake a comprehensive home assessment before initiating the reintegration process. It entails a thorough process that helps separated children, temporarily placed in institutional care, to be placed back in the care of their parents, extended family or caregivers. For cases, where no close family is found, or it is not in the best interest of the child be reintegrated with their parents, family-based alternative care options of kinship and foster care are considered while efforts aimed at preparing the parents to receive the child back into their care continue.
In cases where it is clear that the child has been abandoned or the family has relinquished their parental responsibilities, domestic or intercountry adoption may apply. This ensures that the steps taken are in the best interest of the child.
 Kinship Care is care provided to a child by the extended family or close friends of the family.
“We hold family orientation trainings for parents and guardians to help them receive back into their care children, who have been temporarily placed in institutional care,” explains Sombo Ngoma, the Child Welfare Inspector at Kitwe DSWO. “Parents and guardians are trained in Positive Parenting models, that help them not only offer healthy and positive guardianship to the child but also be equipped with parenting skills relevant for coping with attending to an additional child in their family and one who has been in formal care (majorly institutional care).”
Positive parenting involves the guardians in decision-making, hence establishing a supportive environment for the well-being of the child/adolescent. Family reintegration is managed on a case-to-case basis, through which several assessments and follow-ups are carried out - while ensuring that the family receives the right services and support required to meet all their needs outlined in the case plan. As an assigned guardian for *Dean, Martha was also trained in positive parenting and provided with support. She was also linked to services to help her meet the needs Dean has, and received counseling and guidance on how to create a healthy living environment for both of Dean and herself, as his guardian.
Sharing her experience during the process of taking Dean into her guardianship, Martha says, “I was helped with a capital to start a small business, and a few bags of cement to build a better house. The house I lived in before had many cracks and was not in a decent shape. I opened a small shop using part of the capital, and invested the rest in a charcoal business.”
“I count all the joy as a great blessing for having decided to take Dean in. Not only has my life changed through this child, but I have also learnt a lot.” Martha continues to explain “I made good profits from the business I started, and managed to get a well constructed for us. We now have easy access to safe water and a well-built house in which Dean has his own room.”
Dean was reintegrated back into the community at the age of 5 years and lives with his grandaunt Martha. He is seven years old now and enrolled at a local primary school in grade one.
UNICEF with funding support from the GHR Foundation, and through the Ministry of Community Development and Social Welfare, is working with various non-governmental organizations to implement the Children in Families programme aimed at preventing primary and secondary child-family separation and promoting family based alternative care. A key component of the children in families initiative is the provision of intensive family support services to children and their families, tailored to meet their various and unique needs with the aim ensuring family preservation.
*Name of the Child and his caretaker changed to protect their privacy.