Conference on Reintegration Challenges faced by Care leavers: Brief Conference Report and Hot Points

About the Conference
On 23rd and 24th October 2014 stakeholders of vulnerable children and institutions of child care from East Africa met to discuss their associated reintegration challenges within communities and in families. The event brought together women County leaders from Bungoma, Vihiga, and other counties, Dagoretti Constituencies, Faith Based Organizations, Children Care Institutions, Universities, Governmental Institutions and various other organizations with a direct interest in the reintegration needs of these children.
The conference was organized by KARDS, Institute of Social Ministry in Mission (ISMM) and Consolation East Africa (CEA) under the Auspices of Kenya Peace Network (KPN) supported by Mensen met een Missie (MM) , Amani NGO, Koinonia Community, Koinonia Alumni Association (KOBWA), Kenya Society of Care Leavers (KESCA), Undugu Society of Kenya, Marist International University Center for Life Skills, IDAY Kenya, St. Joseph Caffasso Halfway Home in Kamiti Medium Prisons, Caritas Italiana, Africa Sanaelimu Arts Ensemble (ASAE), Banjuka Arts, Apostles of Jesus Polytechnic, Marengoni Technical Institute, Shepherd Self Help Groups of Riruta, Practical Action, Radio Mtaani, Diakonia Institute and Shalom House.

Inputs from the Government and Political leaders
The Chief Guest Mr. Naftali Oenga of the Nairobi County Children Services representing the County Children Director in Nairobi, expressed gratitude on behalf of the government to all organizations working with vulnerable children in the county. He said that the government was keen to address the stakeholders concerns with respect to children leaving care (care-leavers) and all vulnerable children. The government in its service provision mandate, would like to learn and also receive constructive criticism. Presenting during a plenary session, Mr. Naftali elaborated the resources set aside by the county government to assist ease children reintegration and assist vulnerable populations. They include Constituency Bursary Funds, Constituency Development Funds, Street Families Fund, OVC Transfer Fund (OTF), Uwezo Fund, Women Empowerment Fund (WEF), Youth Empowerment Fund (YEF) and the transfer fund for the elderly. Another government representative was the County Youth Coordinator for Dagoretti Sub-County Mr. Jackson Kayaga. He discussed deeply on how the Uwezo Fund, Youth Empowerment Fund (YEF) and Women Empowerment Fund (WEF) could be used as resources to aid reintegration.
The assistant speaker of the County Assembly of Bungoma speaking on behalf of other County Assembly Members, emphasized on the need for county governments to support vulnerable people within them. Accordingly, counties have a responsibility to ensure easy access of resources for meriting stakeholders. The speaker also shared about the difficulty facing defiled girls to access justice. The Vihiga county assembly representative indicated that violence and community rejection that young care leaving adults face is a key hindrance to reintegration. She emphasized that youngsters still require all manner of support and accompaniment till they become self-reliant. County leaders were urged to consider vulnerable populations in their budgets. MP Simba Arat though his representative expressed the fact that the plight of the vulnerable children needs urgent redress highlighting some efforts already put by his constituency in addressing this issue. In this constituency children empowerment is key.

Inputs focusing on the care-leavers reintegration challenge
Speakers presented perspectives on various issues. For example Grazia Orsolato from the Amani NGO, one of the main sponsors of the conference highlighted the importance of thinking about the reintegration needs of young women. She highlighted the vulnerabilities faced by young girls once they leave institutions of care. These vulnerabilities if not addressed in time will render the girl vulnerable forever.

Mr. Protus Lumiti of Nyumbani Children home presented the experience of working to re-integrate children with HIV. The experience of reintegrating young ex-prisoners was shared by St. Joseph Cafaso Institute of Kamiti while that of rescuing and reintegrating young Maasai Girls escaping circumcision and early marriage was shared by the children department in Ngong. Other experiences included those of Raha Kids and Sellessians of Don Bosco.

Several research papers were presented (kindly find download them here). The first was a joint research funded by Koinonia Community and Amani Onlus. It was conducted by KARDS, Datastat, KOBWA and KESCA. The study presented findings from a dataset of 90 care leavers. The study was presented by Dr. Richard Muko of KARDS and Tangaza University College (Institute of Social Ministry in Mission), Martin Ndichu of KOBWA and Stephen Njove of KESCA. A study covering Psychosocial dimension of reintegration was presented by Mr.

Sammy Mwangi of Kenya Institute of Professional Counsellors and Egerton University while that looking at the effects of the reintegration process on former street children was presented by Mr. Kevin Otieno of the University of Nairobi. A study focusing on transformation of the lives of street children was presented by Elena Magoni of the Amici di Bambini. The paper emphasized on the need to recognize idiosyncrasies and challenges facing different environments. A model on tracing, family reunification and reintegration of institutionalized children was shared by Tracy Kyangulani of Child’s I Institute and Terres de Hommes. While the reintegration mediation triangle model of reintegrating vulnerable children was shared by Mr. Boniface Okada of Koinonia.

Inputs focusing on life skills
In recognizing the importance of life skills among other interventions within charitable children institutions in enhancing a successful reintegration of care-leavers, the conference dedicated a special session for it. Dr. Peter Changilwa of the Marist International University Center (MIUC) for life skills presented a model of life skills. MIUC emphasized on the need for different care institutions to equip themselves with staff who understand how to impart life skills on the children. The theme of the life skills was also emphasized by Sr. Patricia Lanygan of the Tangaza University College’s Institute of Social Ministry in Mission. Sr. Patricia resented a summary of different studies on care and protection of vulnerable children among the students of social ministry institute from TUC.

Artistic Eye View
By the end of the conference, it emerged that reintegration posed a great challenge. The conference visual artist Mr. Ernest Muthoka from Daystar University, painted a picture depicting consolation or desolation as the final reintegration state for the care-leavers. In his painting children enter the CCIs with baggage and leave either empty finding themselves having failed and on the cruel side of the world or as successful stories in the sweeter part of the world.

Mr. Mike Kasongo the performing artist from ASAE left the conference participants with a message that care-leavers are part of the community story. Since they originally emanated from the community, their successful reintegration shows a more integrated and healthy community. Institutions and stakeholders on child protection and vulnerable youth interested in helping ease the reintegration pain should seek to collaborate and share experiences time and again to enhance more success stories.

The Banjuka artist Jack Atulo had one message for communities: any form of stigma is a hindrance to successful reintegration for the youth leaving care.

Conference Hot Points
The following therefore were key points that emerged from the conference:

Government
1. The government needs to change the current name of CCIs from Charitable Children Institutions to Child Care Institutions.
2. Once the youngsters leave the CCIs, the onus is placed on the communities to care for them. The government could help greatly by setting aside resources and building capacities to help the reintegration process. This will help community members shouldering responsibility of care not to be overburdened with too many expenses such as school fee etc.
3. Documentation is key to help youngsters move towards independence. In most cases it becomes very difficult to help children with no trace of their families access necessary documents. The government is requested to assist CCIs help children with special difficulties access these important documents.
4. The government to instruct some of its officers who are not responsive to the needs of CCIs and children. At times it has been found that there are difficulties in dealing with concerned officers or getting information required. This fact has also been blamed on few officers handling huge case loads.

Charitable Children Institutions
1. Reintegration agenda needs to be part and parcel of the formation beginning immediately from the time the child joins the charitable children institutions to the time he or she exits. It should be planned well even where there are contingencies necessitating haste reintegration as a result of a punishment. Efforts should always be put in place to ease the reintegration pain on the youngster.
4. Children enter different institutions of care shouldering heavy historical burdens. Institutions should therefore employ professionals with a humane touch who will not only form the children but also help them off-load these burdens. Doing this will free children to move to the future with ease.
5. The reintegration needs of each child is unique and different and quite distinct. There is a need to consider children’s inputs when making reintegration decisions affecting them. Some children may reintegrate well back to their nuclear and extended families while others may not. Building alternatives for reintegration of care-leavers is therefore very important.
6. One alternative for reintegration is the CCIs alumni networks. CCIs should therefore help in the formation of alumni networks among their care-leavers. This could help younger care-leavers with strained family relationships find temporary solace from older peers as they move towards permanent solution or self-independence.

Care leavers
7. Care-leavers themselves have a responsibility of assisting each other. Organizations such as KESCA could help in building needed capacities within CCI institutions and maintaining a network of support necessary to assist those in need. Partners too could consider building capacities of such organizations.
8. Care-leavers were also asked to use well talents acquired from their former institutions of care. They should seek to be fully rehabilitated and avoid quick and easy ways to wealth. They should also avoid criminal activities but seek to integrate fully in the societal structures such as talent associations, faith institutions and work to advance their professionalism.

Family/Community
9. Family and community dimension is quite important in enhancing the reintegration process. Families and communities need not only be linked to the reintegration process but also encouraged to be part and parcel of the children formation process, contributing to it in any way they can. Contact with the child must be maintained regularly if possible and not only when the child is to be reintegrated.

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