Out of 36 children admitted over a four year period, only about 19 probably needed to spend some time in a residential facility. About 7 of them probably needed to stay for a year or more. But about 17 had no convincing reason for being in a residential facility. About 29 out of 36 should have left the facility sooner than they did, and some of them should have left far sooner. Sadly, three of the children died while under the care of the orphanage. No child was ever admitted on the grounds that both parents had died.
A number of children were admitted because they were in urgent need of care, sometimes medium to longer term care. And a few would certainly not be alive today if they had not received the treatment and care they got while they were staying at Watoto Kicheko. For this, we owe a debt of gratitude to the staff of Watoto Kicheko, specialists and staff at Selian Hospital (ALMC), staff from a number of other facilities and a whole host of others who visited, gave advice and assistance, supported us in various ways, sent money, gifts and the like.
The Tanzanian Law of the Child Act is clear that orphanages should be a last resort, once every other option has been considered. For a long time now, orphanages seem to have been treated as the go to place for children. Many of the children, and sometimes their parents or carers, have needs that can be provided without the child being separated from their family. Once a child has been separated, for whatever reason, it can be difficult to reunite them. Being separated from their family is a significant harm in itself, aside from the many risks children in care face. The practice of placing children in orphanages when they have no need to be separated from their family must stop.
Of course, there are situations when a child may need to be separated from a parent, carer, or even their family. Sometimes it is not possible for a child to return to a family member, or even to the family. Caring for children in such circumstances is difficult, as anyone involved in child protection knows. But even urgent measures that need to be taken, emergencies, situations where there are clear risks for the child, etc, must also include a strategy for keeping the child in contact with a carer, someone who will stay close to the child, at least until their future is clear.
Long-term residential accommodation will not provide the child with the conditions they need to develop. Neither disability nor poverty are valid reasons for denying children a family life. If you are involved in researching or working with forms of non-residential care for children, reuniting children who have been in care, alternatives to orphanages and strategies for keeping families together in Tanzania, I would love to hear from you: Simon Collery – collery [at] gmail.com