Monday, March 3, 2014

Creating a happy childhood - Replacing residential care with family reintegration in Cambodia

14 year old Sopheak* (left) and 13 year old Dara* (right) in front of their aunt’s home. They enjoy riding their new bicycles to school. The bikes were provided with funds for family reintegration (*names changed).
 © UNICEF Cambodia/2013/ Reid

On a quiet afternoon in Kouk Doung village, in Siem Reap province, northwest Cambodia, brothers Sopheak* (14) and Dara* (13) are enjoying rides on their new bicycles. They like the freedom of being able to travel around with ease. “I want to work as a taxi driver when I finish school,” says Sopheak. “And so do I,” echoes Dara.
The boisterous teens were not always so happy or carefree.  Following the death of their mother in a motorbike accident in 2005 both spent approximately six years of their childhoods living in residential institutions. Their father - badly affected by the loss of his wife - took to drink, sold his property and spent all the money on alcohol. He neglected and abused his sons and it was only the intervention of their aunt Song Sophors* which prevented serious injury.

 Since their aunt could not afford to take them in, the boys were initially pleased to be accepted to live in an orphanage where they received regular meals and an education. But they soon found that these could not replace the close family ties for which they yearned.  
Their aunt proposed them to go to another institution. But there things only got worse. Sopheak and Dara were given little to eat and had insufficient space to sleep. This orphanage was not registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (MoSVY) as stipulated in the ‘Policy on Alternative Care for Children‘ (2006) and neither did it meet government’s ‘Minimum Standards on Alternative Care for Children‘ (2008), which provide a regulatory framework and guidance on alternative care in Cambodia. A government inspection finally led to the closure of the orphanage and the relocation of the boys to a state-run institution where reintegration with their family began.

 Family Reintegration

 Appropriate case management by MoSVY social workers - equipped with special training provided by UNICEF and funded by the USAID Displaced Children and Orphans Fund (DCOF) and other donors – led to Sopheak and Dara being able to join the household of their aunt, uncle, grandmother and three cousins. 
MoSVY social workers, working with UNICEF NGO partner ICC Sky, provided the boys with psychological support, prepared them for reintegration with their family and regularly monitored the process.
Phang Phay (58), Chief of the District’s Social Affairs Office who has been a social worker for many years says his UNICEF-supported training made him a keen advocate for family reintegration. “I think family preservation is the best option,” said Phay. “It helps the children to live in the community environment. They can easily adapt to the community and family life conditions, which they do not have if they are placed in the orphanages. Even if the orphanages are excellent in terms of having food and education, they are unable to provide the same love in terms of nurturing them and loving them as a family would.“
Creating Opportunities to Generate Income

With the support of  ICC Sky, Aunt Song Sophors* is now able to run a small business raising chickens.
The additional income enables her to support the boys financially (*name changed).
© UNICEF Cambodia/2013/ Reid
To help overcome the financial challenge of supporting two extra family members, the NGO ICC Sky also assisted the children’s aunt to generate additional income.  Training sessions equipped her with the skills to run a small business raising chickens which helps to meet household expenses. “The boys are now with me under my support and my care. They now have a better life than before,” said Aunt Sophors. “I am willing to support them to continue with their education until they can support themselves in the future.”
For Sopheak and Dara, the years of uncertainty, violence and neglect have come to an end. With school uniforms and learning materials provided by ICC Sky the boys are especially pleased with their new bicycles which they ride to school. They are both in Grade 4 and catching up on missed lessons. “Our favourite subject is maths,” says Dara, while Sopheak nods in agreement, “We’re happy to be here instead of being at the orphanage. We are here with our aunty, uncle and cousins in a family.”

*Names changed to protect identities.

By Jasper Neerdaels

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