Friday, June 24, 2016

Going back home: Reuniting children in residential care institutions with their families

By Phok Sophea

Social workers and Ms. Mich’s family
©UNICEF Cambodia/Sophea Phok

Ms. Soun Mich, 40, is a widow with three children: Dam Vandav, 16, and twins Dam Srey Pich and Dam Srey Pov, 10. Ms. Mich lives in Kor village, Krang Yav commune, Sa Ang district, Kandal province.

Some years ago, extreme poverty drove Ms. Mich to place her three children in the ‘Center Amitié Khmero Franco Hong Roise’, a residential care facility.

In 2006, Ms. Mich had no job, no way to generate income, no land for farming, no house, and an insurmountable debt of 2 million Riel (US$500). Her situation was made worse by continued domestic conflict with her husband, who later left her for a new woman. Ms. Mich had to bear responsibility for the family, and hoped that sending her three children to the orphanage would lighten her load.

She heard about the orphanage through a Christian church in her community. The church leader sent one child from her village to the orphanage, and so Ms. Mich received information and support from the church.

As a part of UNICEF’s Country Programme of Cooperation with the Royal Government of Cambodia, UNICEF Cambodia works closely with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (MoSVY) and government institutions to carry out case management. This includes family tracing and reunification and reintegration of children living in residential care institutions in selected provinces, including Kandal province.

This collaboration aims to reintegrate children from residential care institutions with their families and communities by implementing MoSVY’s Policy on Minimum Standards and Prakas (government regulation) on Alternative Care for Children. These strengthen the protective roles of families, communities and relevant competent authorities to act in the best interests of the child, including through tracing and family support.

Through this cooperation, the orphanage and its donor of more than 10 years, Norway House, have agreed to promote the reintegration of children from its centre, including Ms. Mich’s children, into their families and communities. Since October 2015, social workers from the Department of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation (DoSVY) in Kandal province have been working closely with local authorities and the orphanage to reintegrate Ms. Mich’s children. This has been done through case management services, which include case filing, family tracing and assessment, reintegration and follow-up services.

On 14 December 2015, Mr. Sat Sithy, a social worker, mobilized support from non-governmental organizations Mith Samlanh (a UNICEF partner) and Small Heart to provide the family with a bicycle for each of the three children, food, including 50 kg of rice and instant noodles, and school materials.

The process was made easier by the fact that Ms. Mich missed her children and was very positive about reunification. After separating from her husband, Ms. Mich’s economic situation changed. She was able to do seasonal work, such as construction, ploughing weeds on farms, and raising pigs and cows. She slowly earned enough to pay back her debt and save some money. She was confident that her situation had improved enough for her to take care of her children on her own. Importantly, her children did not want to live in the centre anymore.

Ms. Mich is very happy to be reunited with her three children and appreciates the support of social workers. “I am feeling spiritually supported with the presence of social workers who come to my house,” she said.

She said she would never send her children to an orphanage again and is committed to caring for them.

Currently, Ms. Mich has a job as a singer, earning $20 per wedding during the wedding season, from January to April/May. She also has pigs and cows and works on her mother’s farm, which she said gave her enough money to raise her family. Ms. Mich still has access to seasonal work, which provides extra income.

The family is regularly monitored by social workers who provide on-going support.

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