Because Children Belong In Families! (even if they have a disability)

Yesterday I was in a meeting. As I introduced the subject of the meeting I said:
“…We are concerned that this mother might abandon two of her children as she is struggling to cope…”
The reply from the person with whom I was speaking:
“Have you tried “X” Home?”
I was confused for a moment and then, I’m not going to lie, a little horrified!
“But we don’t want her to abandon them?! We want to support her keep them,” I replied.
Now it was her turn to look confused.
I am so sad that this seems to have become the standard response to a struggling family. We seem to have collectively become confused somewhere. Let me serve a reminder: CHILDREN BELONG IN FAMILIES. We know this. We recognised this many decades ago in our care model in the UK. We recogise this time and time again when we read the statistics that show the correlation between criminal convictions and growing up in care or when appalling conditions of orphanages are revealed for instance in Eastern Europe are exposed. Just today the BBC shared an article on facebook entitled “A look into the heartbreaking world of institutionalised children in Japan.” (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-28636008).
In what world would we suggested a parent in the UK give up a child they love??? Albeit the child is disabled. Albeit the parent is a single parent. Albeit she is poor. 
Gloria with her single mum.

No, rather, that parent would be offered support. She would be offered educational support for herself and her child. She would be provided financial support. She would be provided parenting and social support.
So why should that be different in Uganda? Of course poverty is a factor. But why do we, as donors, choose to funnel our £$ into residential care homes rather than family support? A couple of months sponsorship that might be paid to an orphanage is often enough to set up a small business for a family.
Of course there are children who have been abandoned and are untraceable. Of course there are (a few) children who literally have no living family members to take on their care if they had the means. But these children, disabled or not, are surprisingly few and far between.
Every single one of the children with disability we work with has someone who loves them. And all of them, with the exception of two children, live with family members: parents, aunties, grandmas. As for the other two, they were both taken in and fostered by community members who chose to love them and provide them with a family*. This makes me so happy. 
Linda with her doting grandmother
Of course many orphanages are doing a good job. Children’s needs are being met; they are clean, well dressed, healthy and educated. But wouldn’t it be lovely if children were these things AND living with a family?
From the BBC article cited above: “Kevin Browne, a professor of Forensic Psychology and Child Health at Nottingham University, said in the Human Rights Watch report entitled, “Without Dreams” that “even apparently ‘good quality’ institutional care can have a detrimental effect on children’s ability to form relationships throughout life”.
Having a child with disability is sometimes seen as a curse in Uganda. And more frequently, and understandably, it is seen as a burden. Life can be hard here and add to that the additional health and nutritional needs of that child, the difficultly of transporting a child with mobility issues, difficulty accessing education (that’s where we come in!) and so on. 
All four of Maama Nam’s children have learning difficulties.
Does that make her life hard? Yes.
Would she give up Nam or any of her siblings? No.
But I would really like us collectively, as a community (Ugandan and global), to start thinking of ways to help families stay with their children and support them to carry their burden as opposed to simply “alleviating” it and by doing so creating an “orphan” on one hand and a mother who has to carry the grief of being separated from their child on the other. It is not only an ideal but our responsibility.
Let’s start thinking about family support.
Let’s start thinking about providing networks of people to provide respite and a shoulder to lean on and perhaps sometimes cry on.
Let’s start thinking about capacity building and income generation so that poverty is not the overriding factor.
Let’s start giving options to parents so that they don’t feel trapped into giving up. 
Maama Derrick tailors the Glory Be school uniforms, using the money to
contribure to Dericks’ SEN boarding school fees.
And where this fails, or has already failed:
Let’s find and support the children’s wider family so that they can still grow up with their relatives; tucked into bed at night by an auntie, a grandmother; playing with their siblings and cousins; learning the culture and customs of their tribe; knowing they are loved, are wanted and belong. 
Sadi lives with his grandparents and eighteen cousins.
He co-sleeps with his grandma who run’s her busy household around Sadi’s additional needs.
And where this fails, let’s move towards a model of fostering and adoption, within country where possible, and away from a culture of “homes” and “orphanages”. This may sound unlikely if not impossible, in a country where people are often already stretched to the max…but it turns out, it’s not!
I was recently touched by a story from our friends at Ekisa Ministries. Ekisa provide residential care for disabled children who have no one. But they are committed to keeping children in families. They have a dedicated team of social workers who trace families and provide the support and motivation for relatives to take their children home.They also provide community based support, employment and capacity building for families with children who are disabled.
This article tells a really special story of a child with special needs who has been adopted by a Ugandan lady who is no relation of his: http://ugandansadopt.ug/2014/08/love-conquers-all/
So let’s try and keep focus, and remember, that every child deserves a family.And it is our responsibility to support this.
Sakira and her Grandmother adore each other.

*One of these children does now live in a residential care home as her foster-grandmothers health deteriored with age and she was unable to physically care for her any longer. No family members could be traced. The home that was chosen for her follows a family style model of care. 

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