We should go ahead with plan to phase out children's homes

Kenya is reported to have a staggering 3.5 million orphans and vulnerable children. [iStockphoto]

Children's homes in Kenya are a reflection of weakening of the family unit in our society. According to Kenya's Children's Act, every child has a right to parental care.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in its preamble states "...the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding".

This right has remained elusive to approximately 40,000 children who are reported to be currently accommodated in charitable children's institutions commonly known as children's homes or orphanages, which are spread across the country. Worth noting, this figure is an understatement because of our country's poor oversight and ineffective data management systems.

Research has shown that charitable children's institutions often do not support or promote the wellbeing of children. On the contrary, they are harmful and tantamount to violence. A UN Global Study on Violence Against Children shows that children growing up in children's homes face multiple challenges, including being six times more at risk of violence than their peers in families, they are likely to experience socio-emotional and psychological problems, more at risk of developmental delays and poor brain development, especially on very young children.

This problem is solvable, it is possible to make family-based care a reality for all children. Kenya is reported to have a staggering 3.5 million orphans and vulnerable children. Only about 40,000 are in institutions. We can easily see that despite these children's social background, majority are not isolated in children's homes. They are still being cared for and supported within families and communities, within the extended family networks and other formal and non-formal family and community-based care arrangements.

In June 2022 the government, acknowledging the problem in our society, launched the 10-year National Care Reform Strategy. The vision is "for all children and young people in Kenya to live safely, happily and sustainably in family and community-based care where their best interests are served".

A fundamental pillar in this strategy is prevention of separation of children from their families and subsequent placement in children's homes by addressing the underlying push and pull factors within families. Multiple studies have shown that the primary push factor is poverty. This includes desperate caregivers who seek their children's access to education, health care, food, and shelter in the children's homes.

In addition, there is a clarion call within the strategy to all stakeholders including children's homes within the 10-year period to support reintegration of all children, including those with disabilities, to models stipulated in the strategy, models that ensure children enjoy the love, care and support of families. These include, kinship care, kafaalah care for Muslims, foster care, guardianship and local adoption.

-Mr Ucembe is the Regional Advocacy Manager, Hope and Homes for Children