The Importance of Family Based Care

Written by Lizzy McCormack and Biba Honnet

Over 80% of the estimated 8 million children living in institutions worldwide are not orphans. Most have families who could be caring for them if they had the right support. At Free To Shine we work with our girls, their immediate families and extended-family members, neighbours, and community leaders, to build a web of support that is designed to lift them out of vulnerability and keep them safe.

We address complex, ever-changing and often interlinked factors, such as poverty, illness, family violence and breakdown, addiction, unemployment, migration, and debt. Our team workshop every difficult situation to ensure we come up with the best plan for keeping girls with their families. It is often not as simple as just keeping a girl with her parents. Some girls genuinely have no parents to look after them, either because one or both parents have died, or remarried and moved away, or are working in different provinces or countries. Those girls are often living alone with siblings, and it is our Social Workers responsibility to locate a trusted adult figure who can provide supervision and care.It seems obvious to ask, “Why not find an orphanage for these children?” Orphanages are often established with the best of intentions but quickly become businesses for the founders. Or they may – due to financial donations from generous and well-meaning individuals – be in a position to provide access to better education than the local village school, leading some families to place their children in an orphanage in the hope that their future opportunities will be improved. They “graduate” the orphanage having become institutionalised, and this can lead to many other problems in adulthood such as loss of family, community and cultural connections, increased rates of mental illness, the inability to form healthy adult relationships and parent their own children, and higher likelihood of becoming sex workers, engaging in criminal activity, and suicide. Except in extraordinary cases, family-based care is the model organisations and communities should be working toward, and Free To Shine is proud to be among those leading the way.