Child in Family Focus has been advocating for family-based care in Kenya since its inception in 2012. Cofounder and director Peter Muthui grew up in an orphanage in Nairobi and later worked as a social worker at the same home for ten years. His experiences both as a child living in an orphanage and as a social worker uniquely qualify him to champion the importance of family care for children. With a team of passionate and qualified Kenyans, Child in Family Focus is working to change perceptions about what it means to effectively care for orphans and vulnerable children in Kenya and throughout the African continent.
One way they work toward this goal is by holding workshops to introduce important community stakeholders to family care models. As outlined in the Guidelines for the Alternative Family Care of Children in Kenya, these models include family reintegration, foster care, and domestic adoption. These community stakeholders consist of pastors, orphanage directors and staff, donors, and leaders of local and international organizations. The Child in Family Focus staff share their knowledge and important research concerning family-based care in these workshops, but they also take a posture of listening and colearning alongside the workshop participants. This allows everyone to share their experience, knowledge, concerns, and hopes in moving from a residential care model to family care models.
Peter and Simon Njoroge, an advocacy officer with Child in Family Focus, shared that common themes and fears come to light during these workshops. In a recent workshop with an international organization working in Kenya, caregivers voiced concerns about losing their jobs if the orphanage in which they work were to close. Likewise, donors worried they would no longer be allowed to support the children.
One way in which the Child in Family Focus team addresses these widespread concerns is by having conversations about the transformative potential of family-based care in the community, the organization itself, and especially for the children. For example, rather than talking about closing the orphanage and eliminating jobs, they share how staff can be included in the shift toward establishing and supporting alternative family care models. They describe how new jobs can be created and how those who are willing to can learn new skills for these jobs. Instead of telling donors their assistance is no longer needed, they present donors with an opportunity to invest in pioneering best practices in the community and supporting family care for children. This shift in approach has resulted in a spirit of excitement pervading these organizations, helping to overcome their initial fears.
Supporting and actively participating in national and regional networks of organizations implementing family-based care is another important element of Child in Family Focus’s work. They are active members of the Association for Alternative Family Care of Children (Formerly Alternative Care Alliance – Kenya), which seeks to promote family-based care throughout Kenya. Further, Child in Family Focus is a core pioneer member of Transform Alliance Africa (TAA), a Pan-African coalition of organizations with a vision of an Africa free of orphanages, where all children grow and thrive in safe and loving families. Networking and building strong regional support systems of advocates for alternative care is a foundational element in their mission.
Child in Family Focus believes that for sustainable change to take place, political goodwill is also essential. Therefore, they are committed to working with the Kenyan government, fostering working relationships with key officials at all levels from policy development to implementation. When pertinent policies arise, Child in Family Focus serve as both a resource for the government and an advocate for the rights of children and families.
After many years of advocacy, local and international organizations are now coming to Child in Family Focus to ask for guidance on how to put family care models into action. The team is beginning to consult with orphanage leadership as they transition to family-based care by providing capacity building training and in-depth staff coaching. Further, through their networks with TAA and the Association for Alternative Family Care of Children, Child in Family Focus is able to refer out cases that might require assistance beyond their current capacity.
A member of the leadership team from a local organization described their time learning from Child in Family Focus with the following comments: “Peter and Simon of Child in Family Focus shared not only their personal experiences which strongly back the principle that ‘children belong in families,’ but they also gave us numerous practical resources on how to execute this, to the great benefit of the children in our care. . . . They are the voices we should be elevating and I wish that every organization who brings in children would have the opportunity to learn from them. . . . They are willing to do whatever they can to help change the narrative to the benefit of beautiful and deserving children all over the world.” Seeing the fruit of their advocacy work is encouraging, and the Child in Family Focus team is ready to assist those organizations willing to take the next step in implementing family-based care.
By thoughtfully sharing and fostering transformation to family-based care, Child in Family Focus is creating fertile soil for lasting change in Kenya and through the African region. With support from Child in Family Focus, organizations are excited to take on strategies that provide for children inside loving families and supportive communities. Child in Family Focus looks forward to a day when family-based care is the first choice of care for orphaned and vulnerable children in Kenya and beyond.
Note: To learn more about how to prepare and engage staff in transitioning to family care for children, see Faith to Action’s Transitioning to Family Care for Children Tool Kit.