By Mai Nambooze
In 2016, BULA and our partner in Uganda, Alternative Care Initiatives (ACI), launched an amazing programme called ‘Ugandan Care Leavers’ (UCL). This programme aims to bring together, network and support those children, now young adults, who spent some or most of their childhood growing up in a child care institution (also known as orphanage, children’s home, baby home or children’s village.)
BULA and ACI firmly believe that children belong in families and the research shows institutional care to be damaging to children, particularly for the younger children during the early years of development. Children growing up in institutions are more likely to suffer from poor health, physical underdevelopment, developmental delays and attachment disorders. Furthermore, studies have shown that well over 90% of children living in “orphanages” globally have at least one living parent.
Learning from the research we believe more should be done to keep children with their parents or in their extended families. When that is not possible alternative families, such as foster care or local adoption, should be sought. This has proven to be much cheaper and better for children than institutional care.
The Care Leavers project ensures that those exposed to institutional care can access support and share their experiences. During 2016, we were able to bring care leavers from a number of institutional care facilities in Kampala and Jinja together for workshops. During the workshops, we get to know each other, play fun games, have some social time, provide support and the participants complete an anonymous questionnaire about their experiences. Already the findings during the questionnaire are startling and while many children are thankful they were able to attend school and be fed at the institution, their experiences as a whole are incredibly negative – they are exploited, exposed to physical and sexual abuse, many prevented from seeing their family and most left to fend for themselves when they become ‘too old’ for the institution. One participant told of how she was raped by a member of staff at her orphanage but was told not to tell the police because the orphanage was a ‘Christian’ orphanage.
We have created a Whatsapp group for care leavers, set-up committees of care leavers and planned more support and events in 2017. The voices of children most affected by institutional care can finally be heard and we hope that in 2017 the world will wake up to their voices which are loud and clear ‘support us in our families and communities not orphanages’.