Bleak future for orphaned children in child care centres
By Stephen Ucembe
| July 30th 2016
According to the Kenya Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children launched in 2015, it is estimated that between 30 to 45 per cent of the 2.4 million orphans and vulnerable children are living in children’s homes or orphanages.
Research by the Centre on the Developing Child-Harvard University confirms that the first five years are particularly important for the development of the child’s brain.
According to the research, by the age of five, 90 per cent of our brains are fully developed. The first three years, the research adds, are the most critical in influencing the child’s brain architecture.
Global evidence shows that children’s homes hardly provide or meet these requisite needs for growth and development.
Today, if you visit a children’s home, often you will find staff who work in shifts, babies don’t have one consistent person to identify as their “mother”.
In some institutions, due to poor remuneration, there are pervasive turn-overs, reinforcing inconsistent care. In most, staff are overwhelmed with little or no time to provide stimulation to children.
With a staff/child ratio being low, a staff can only work on one child at a time during meals and changing times, while many others are lying helplessly waiting for their turn.
Giving up in despair, children cry, rock themselves, become despondent, and worse, give up crying because their cries for help produce no result.
Staff roles are simply reduced to chores and not what you would define or refer as love and care. Global scientific evidence on institutionalisation has found the model significantly damaging. Research on young children has concluded that for every three months a child stays in an institution, they lose one month of overall development.
Additionally, global studies have shown that young children in children’s homes have a lower IQ compared to those in family settings.
Additionally, comparative studies using Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Electroencephalogram have revealed that children who suffer early institutionalisation have smaller heads, smaller brains, and different white matter structure compared to those in family environments.
Apart from cognitive and psychological disruptions and damage, these children are likely to perform poorly emotionally; they have attachment and bonding problems, they struggle in social interactions and relationships later in life and delayed in language milestones.
The Government and stakeholders should move swiftly to transform our care sector, remove legislative and policy barriers that allow placement of children under the age of three in institutions depriving them the right to a family.
Evidence shows placement in institutions can be eradicated if we prioritised and allocated more resources to family based care practices such as adoption, kinship and foster care.
These practices have been proven to be better than institutional care in regards to children’s well-being. The late Nelson Mandela said, “One can measure the greatness of a nation and its moral progress by the way it treats its children”.
Depriving these children families and community experience by confining them in institutions is destructive, discriminatory, stigmatising and isolating to say the least.
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