New Approaches to the Institutional Care of Children
Day 1 of workshop on New Approaches to the Institutional Care of Children by Sr Joyce Meyer
What an informative and interactive day sponsored by the GHR foundation out of Minneapolis, in US.
It began wit prayer called a Banquet of Hope- by a painting by Joey Velasco from the Philippines of Jesus at a banquet with 12 named street children- those often forgotten.
Sr Pat MURRAY reminded us of our Christian responsibility to care for orphans and widows; that children have rights to be respected and kept as close to family as possible.
Dr Janestor Twikirize from Makere University presented trends in care for children that created lively discussion of the challenges, and primarily of the challenge to change for all of us in child care institutions. We need to face changes in our ministry identities and new ways of interpreting charisms of child care.
Kathleen Mahoney from GHR revealed to us a project of global, regional and country mapping of catholic institutional care of children and vulnerable persons with information gleaned from the Vatican annuarium that lists 10 different types of Church sponsored institutions. Soon, all of us can digitally find our ministries on a global map! Very exciting.
Don’t forget the children’s needs of incarcerated mothers was the plea of Sister Tessa Fitzgerald, CSJ from Hour Children in New York. She shared stories of three such women who participated in programs of Hour Children in prison to become good mothers even while in prison, knowing their children are being kept safe in a community environment.
Google Hour Children in Queens, NY.
Day 2 of workshop on New Approaches to the Institutional Care of Children by Sr Joyce Meyer
Our day began with a beautiful prayer to Mary for protection of her children, accompanied by a lovely painting ( Painter not identified) of Mary surrounded by children.
First speaker was Kelly Bunkers, a child protection consultant in Kenya. She reminded us of the UN convention on children’s rights, and particularly article 20 stressing importance of alternatives to residential care: strengthing families to prevent separation; range of care options when nuclear family cannot take responsibility (kin or neighbors), keeping siblings together and avoiding placing babies under 3 in residential care.
Two important principles must be followed: remove child only if absolutely necessary and seek alternative appropriate care for this PARTICULAR child.
Goals must be: prevention of separation, strengthening families,expanding alternative options and finding family for re- integration into community.
This was followed by a panel of experiences of transitions from institutional care to community based care from 3 levels: personal, congregational and conference of religious.
Personal: Barbara Staley, MSSH shared her experience in a remote region of Swaziland responding to families devastated by HIV and TB.
Chiefs overwhelmed by deaths and numbers of children left behind begged Sisters to help them. Community had no experience of orphanages and were adamant:
“No orphanages “ would be acceptable, But boarding schools were. First one opened without water or electricity and was inundated the first night-98 children appeared, without records of names or families. Search began for each child’s identity; nuclear family was elusive so sister’s found relatives or others willing to keep the children traumatized by loss of connection.
Case management was imperative. Only two sisters had been assigned for this ministry so it was imperative to organize the community to help. This collaboration evolved into broader scope including government. This new way of care was slow. But hard work and grit paid off for the sake of the children who found new ways of being loved and belonging.
Sr Madonna Wimaladasa, Good Shepherd Sister from Sri Lanka was next. The Congregational chapter in 2015 chose strategic planning at all levels as a new goal. Sri Lanka province included “rights based care
Their goals were to empower communities of tea picker families to take responsibility for thei children through self help groups, parenting classes, and teaching about children’s’ rights.
Transition from institutional care begun in 1896, to community based care was challenging for Sisters and families used to having thei children cared for outside the family.
They are still in transition, but success is recognized in children’s ability understand they have rights and to advocate for them and new pride of parents in their children.
Challenges continue as fear of change in the way of caring is still present as is the hard work of learning new skills and trusting it is necessary.
Uganda Conference of Religious members’ decision to transition from institutional to community based care of children was a huge step.
The Uganda government had implemented the UN strategy to get children out of institutions that did not meet determined government requirements of care.
The Conference was proactive, working together to become champions of child care in thei country.
Sister Alice Javan and Nr Joseph Sentongo described the strategy: strengthen charisms and ministries of sisters involved in child care through capacity building in social work skills and child protection.
Challenges were and are many: superiors needed education as well as care- givers, funding is at issue-no government money yet, but positive affirmation as government looks to sisters for guidance; GHR foundation is assisting the sisters with education and educational materials being used by government; winning hearts of donors to change attitudes from institutional interest to family support remains challenging.
Bishops and priests are looking to the sisters to educate their parishioners too, so, the motto of the conference: “a family for every Child” is moving ahead with great passion!
The over-all theme of these days: “Take Courage, do not be afraid to change. Our religious life charism is to be prophetic in caring for the least of all- our children, God’s children”. Prayers for you all!