Category: Inclusive, Enabling Communities | Caring and protection of particularly vulnerable groups | 15 July, 2014 - 06:00← BACK
Leliebloem House is a residential centre for 84 children from troubled families, in need of special care and intervention. Our centre offers a non-restrictive setting for children who are placed with us by the courts. Specifically we focus on running a specialist family reunification programme that aims to restore broken family relationships in the broader Western Cape.
In this learning brief we explain our family reunification process in depth with the hope that other organisations would take up a similar cause. Our experience has taught us that reintegrating children back into the family environment is complex, a long-term process, and requires intervention at numerous levels. This means addressing the children’s needs as well as the parental and family needs individually.
The main objectives of the family reunification programme are to:
Reasons why a family reunification programme is important
Through the family reunification programme we aim to create and restore the family ties which have become distorted and detrimental to a child’s wellbeing. We specifically focus on the socio economic challenges facing families and help them to link with external agencies that can meet their needs.
Current government frameworks and protocols for child welfare tend to direct funding less to children’s homes and more to intervention, preservation, and family reunification strategies. Our organisation fits well into this framework as we emphasise family restoration and relationship building.
Describing our family reunification programme strategy
Our programme aims to restore the familial bond with the end goal of the sustainable reintegration of the child with the biological family, extended family or community members within the shortest possible timeframe. The reunification process starts the day a child is admitted to our centre. We write up each child’s Care Plan and IDP (Individual Development Plan) and review these every 3 months. These plans and documents serve as guidelines for the reunification process, and they help us track and highlight where the responsibilities with our organisation lie.
We have learnt that parents and families need to know that they are valued and their input in the reunification process is valuable. As such we involve parents and extended families in each phase of the child’s care. For example, we encourage parents to offer some of their time by rendering services to the organisation. This has had positive repercussions as the parents and children have the opportunity to work on their relationships together in the neutral setting of our centre.
The parents or guardians attend parenting workshops, which are aimed at equipping them with the necessary skills to modify learned behaviour. This changes behaviour, increases knowledge, instils hope and positive values, and promotes self-reliance. Finally, we educate the whole family on a range of issues facing their communities such as rape, abuse, violence, ill health, and poverty. Parents are also involved in enrolling their children in school.
A dedicated family reunification team
We have a dedicated team that is solely responsible for family reunification. This is core to our programme’s success. The team is tasked with conducting parenting workshops and assessing each family over a period of time. The team members work alongside the child and youth care workers to assist with home visits, workshops, family consultation, etc. Once the team is satisfied with the progress of a family, they begin the reintegration process to place the child back in the home environment. This strategy means that the team works intensively with each family for at least a year or more.
Activities involved in the family reunification approach
To aid the children and family members with the reunification process we offer a range of services and activities.
Mini family day
We host a mini family day in March to provide the families with important information about our children’s home/centre and the work we do. We supply a warm meal and encourage questions and discussion about the family reunification process.
Aftercare camp for the children
We host an “aftercare camp” for children who are already placed back (reunified) with their families. This camp provides a neutral setting where the children who are facing reunification can connect with other children in similar situations, can debrief, and can discuss how the process if affecting their lives. During the camp we are also able to assess their current situation and seek solutions moving forward.
We facilitate on-going support groups for the children. The groups are designed to empower and enrich the children to become strong young people who are able to face the challenges in their lives and communities. In the groups they learn the knowledge, life skills, and coping mechanisms to deal with difficult issues; and the groups offer a platform for the children to voice their opinions, fears, and to ask questions.
We host a number of parenting workshops throughout the year, with representatives from about 20 families attending. We cover concerns about safe parenting habits, and childcare. Through these workshops parents gain skills and knowledge that empower them to become good role models in their communities. This also serves as a tool whereby they are able to empower community members by sharing this information.
Food parcels and transport cost
The children in our centre return to their families during school holidays and select weekends. However, many of the families we work with struggle to care for the basic needs of their children and can’t feed them. As such, we provide for their nutritional needs during these home visits by making a food parcel available to the families. The food parcel size differs according to the period of time the children are in the families care. Approximately 25 families are provided with food parcels. In addition to supplying food parcels we cover the transport cost for home-visits, weekends home, and school holiday visits.
Organisations like ours face many challenges implementing family reunification services. The state court system removes children from their families when their health and safety is compromised, but we aim to help reunify them with relatives in the long run by working with family members to overcome the negative household conditions. This strategy goes against the norm, and discourages the long-term institutionalisation of children.
This approach does work, and other organisations can learn from our experiences and adopt the strategy to suit their own contexts. One of the guiding principles and values for child and youth care speaks to being “Community-Centred”. This implies that organisations like ours should offer services that are contextualised within the community environment. Support and capacity building to communities should be provided through regular developmental assessment and programmes which strengthen the community’s development over time.
Off Belgravia Road, Crawford, Athlone, Cape Town
In this learning brief Leliebloem House showcase their family reunification programme, which aims to help children who have been removed by the courts reunite with relatives/guardians. It describes long-term strategies for working with family members to overcome the negative household conditions for children. Other organisations can learn from the experiential lessons described and can adopt the strategy to suit their own contexts.