eCAMPAIGN: What YOU Need to Know About Child Abuse!
Children in residential care vulnerable to violence from peers
Published September 27, 2008 (Arusha Times)
Mkombozi believes that its primary role as a civil society organisation should not be the delivery of social services; rather, it should be to empower individual children and to enable communities to better care for vulnerable youth. Mkombozi regards institutional care of children as a "last resort" since it is not in the best interest of the child's development and well-being.
In practice, however, we are morally obliged to offer temporary care and residence to homeless children who would otherwise be considered at great risk in the streets. Thus, while Mkombozi is actively working to establish alternatives to institutional care, such as group-housing and foster care in families, there is always a good number of children and youth in need of shelter, food and healthcare in a residential centre setting.
Through its years of experience in running the Mkombozi residential centre for boys, Mkombozi has learnt that preventing and tackling the abuse which takes place among the children themselves is a challenge. Children who have been seperated from their families, lived in the streets or who have suffered through the trauma of abuse, often show heightened stress and emotional difficulties. This can result in abuse between the children themselves.
Paul, one boy who has lived in Mkombozi's residential center for several years, vividly remembers an incident where he was subjected to violence from an older peer: "One day when we were at the center, outside the living room, an older boy came and started beating us. He came from inside the dormitories, chased after us and blamed us, he said I had hit him with a shoe. Afterwards I felt angry, I just sat quietly. It is very bad for an older boy to beat a younger one, because the younger boy does not have the ability to beat the older one back. The younger cannot do anything. I just sat by myself, crying. I still remember how it happened, even though I was very small." Paul says that older children should stop beating those who are younger: "The young should respect the old and the old should respect the young."
The "World Report on Violence Against Children" confirms that children who live in residential care are vulnerable to violence from their peers. No matter how good the quality of the residential centre, the lack of privacy, overcrowding and inability to seperate different age groups still plays a significant role in the perpetuation of abuse among children in residential care. The report says that institutional care should be reserved for children whose needs cannot be met in their own families or in an alternative family setting. Children should not be admitted into residential care unless it is in their "best interest".
In fact, the view that residential care should be used as a "last resort" is widely espoused; the problem, however, is that in many parts of the world, the "last resort" is often the only resort available. According to the World Report, institutionalisation fuels the cycle of violence - institutionalised children are more likley to engage in self-harm, including agression toward others.
Using lessons from experiences like Paul's, and of our partners locally and abroad, Mkombozi critically assesses the situation and vulnerability to abuse for any child before they are admitted into temporary residential care. The period in residential care is useful in exploring and analysing situations and factors that made the child to opt for street life, and to plan with the child towards their own transformation and reunification with families, relatives or placement in foster care.
Overall, institutional care of children is not an ideal solution, and it often creates social exclusion and stigmatisation. Thus, Mkombozi strives to find healthier solutions for children, such as reintegration with their families, living in transitional group-housing or, when possible, placing them in foster-care. We believe that children living in family settings with caring adults are more likely to become balanced, happy and non-violent adults.
What are your thoughts / experience regarding the placement of children in residential care which (in most cases) is removed from their family or community environment?
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