In 2013, when Care4Kids Uganda first considered transitioning from a residential care facility to family-based care, CEO Colleen Kelley was unsure if it was the best decision. Many of the children had been living at Care4Kids since they first opened their doors in 2004. However, two key events took place that allowed Colleen to see that placing children in family care was in the best interest of the children.
First, Colleen began conversations with Care4Kids’ now-parent organization, Kinnected, whose goal is to reduce the number of children in orphanages and uphold the right of children to grow up in a family. The most profound experience, however, was when Colleen sat down to speak with each child living at the Care4Kids residential care center to hear about their hopes and dreams. Out of the 65 children living at the center, 61 children told Colleen they would like to go back to their families.
The social workers with Care4Kids began family tracing efforts late in 2013. While functioning as a residential care facility, Care4Kids had encouraged the children to keep ties with their community of origin through holiday visits, which aided social workers in the family tracing process. However, it still took nearly two years to locate the immediate or extended families of all 61 children. In the small number of cases in which a family member could not be located or when it was determined that reintegration was not in the best interest of a child, a foster family was identified for the child.
A full transition to a family care model did not happen right away, as it was important to slowly build trust between the children, families, caregivers, and social workers. The social workers facilitated counseling sessions with the children and families, both together and separately. Care4Kids also invited the families to stay at their facility so they could spend time with the children under the supervision of the Care4Kids staff. By actively engaging the children and their families during this process, Care4Kids utilized best practices to aid in a successful transition as outlined in Faith to Action’s Transitioning to Family Care Tool Kit.
As an example of a successful transition from the Care4Kids residential care center, Daniel, in anticipation of being reunited with his mother, packed all of his belongings three days early. At first, his mother was afraid to come forward and claim her son, as she feared being shunned by her community for placing her son in an orphanage. But to the contrary, the community embraced her for making this decision, and both she and Daniel are now thriving together as a family.
To make sure the families could adequately provide for the children placed in their care, Care4Kids assisted families in starting small agricultural businesses. Upon beginning an agriculture project, the social workers at Care4Kids also assisted in setting up a bank account for each family. They could then choose between raising pigs, goats, or chickens. If an agriculture project was not a good fit, the family was allowed to draw up an alternative business plan with the assistance of the Care4Kids business teacher.
While Care4Kids still covers school fees and health care for the children, the families are expected to use income from their businesses to provide other basic necessities for their children. This sustainable form of community empowerment has proven successful in keeping families together.
The majority of children were reintegrated with families living near the Care4Kids facility and receive a weekly visit from social workers. For children who are resettled farther away, every effort is made for them to receive at least one visit a month. The social workers with Care4Kids have also built relationships with leadership at each child’s school. This allows the social workers to monitor the children’s progress and ensure that they are attending classes regularly.
While transitioning the children required time and attention to detail, Care4Kids also had to consider how to reassign their full-time caregiver staff to new roles within the organization. Ensuring that all of the staff would still have a job in the new family-based care model was of upmost importance during the transition process. The caregivers now work as cooks or teaching assistants at the new preschool, or oversee various projects, as well as filling other roles. Further, a sewing teacher was brought in to mentor some caregivers to teach them how to make handcrafts and clothing. Their work is sold at various craft shops in the nearby town as an income-generating project.
The last piece of the holistic transition process was deciding how to best utilize their facilities. In conjunction with the local government, Care4Kids held a town hall meeting, inviting anyone from the community to come and voice their thoughts on how the compound should be used to further community development. Eighty-eight community members attended the first meeting. After a handful of meetings, the community decided they wanted the Care4Kids building to be used as a preschool. Three teachers have since been hired to fulfill this dream. With proper notification, Care4Kids allows the buildings to be used for various community meetings or functions. They are also working toward turning other areas of the compound into vocational learning centers, which will be open to anyone in the community.
Making the transition from residential care to family-based care is not an easy endeavor. It requires patience, persistence, and a dedicated team who understand that every child deserves a family. Because of Care4Kids efforts, every child who had once lived in their residential care center is now living with parents, extended family, or a foster family. These children are attending school and thriving within their communities. Care center staff members have gained new skills and exciting new careers. And the community has a beautiful compound that empowers those living in their neighborhood to dream and implement ideas to improve their community. Care4Kids Uganda has shown that holistic transition, when done correctly and with care, empowers everyone.