Are We Really Doing Good? II

November 13th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Child (and elderly) labor exploitation? Four of our girls and one elderly preparing a dish for dinner.

This is a continuation of the previous post. It is a lot longer than I thought it would be. Again, sorry for the length. I’m just answering all the points the ThinkChildSafe site lists. Again, if it is not in red, I did not say it!

Orphanages should be a last resort option for children in need. If children are to be placed temporarily in an orphanage, how can it ensure that it works in the best interest of the child? Here is a set of questions to help you evaluate the intentions of orphanages:

Note most of our girls are not with us temporarily.

Is the orphanage legally registered with the government?

Orphanages should disclose if they are registered with their national authority. This is an important process as all registered orphanages are bound to uphold the national minimum standards of care for children in their facility. They are also subject to a process of inspection by the government authority to monitor the standards.

We are registered with the government. The annual reports you see on our website are produced for and filed with the Thai government. Come into our office or look on our website and you will see a number of documents that register us as a foundation under Thai law. Government inspectors have been out to our office and to our village on various occasions with never an issue raised.

Does the orphanage have a child protection policy?

A lot of orphanages do not have child protection policies in place to ensure the safety and well-being of children in their care. Without a child protection policy, abuses of children may go undetected. It is important that orphanages can demonstrate that they have made attempts to safeguard children from dangers and vulnerabilities. In addition to this it is also important that children are aware of their own rights in the orphanage.

We do have a policy, adapted from that of the Thai government. You can see it on our website in English.

Are visitors allowed to just drop in and have direct access to children without supervision?

Allowing visitors to have direct contact with children can place children at risk especially when visitors are unsupervised. Good organizations have policies in place to protect children and should not allow visitors to just drop in and have access to children. Visitors to an orphanage should never be left alone with children or allowed to take the children away from the orphanage unattended. Allowing visitors to the center may result in a pattern of grooming whereby children begin to trust all visitors to the center, this makes children vulnerable to abuse from visitors with ill intentions.

No, you can’t just drop in and see our kids. You will go through our office psychologists and social workers before you will meet our kids and parents.

Background checks should be conducted for all staff and volunteers interacting with children. Orphanages who allow people to walk in off the street with no background checks and interact with children are not protecting the children in their facility.

We require background checks. Volunteers who work with kids in their home country may already have had a check done that we can use.

Are children required to work or participate in securing funds for the orphanage?

Children residing in orphanages should in no way be used to promote or secure funds for the orphanage. Children should never be used as a promotional tool, be required to dance, sing, to make or sell products as a way of increasing revenue for the orphanage. This is child exploitation, child labor and violates children’s rights and personal safety. By forcing children to engage in revenue rising they are being groomed to participate in the methods used for begging and street work that renders children even more vulnerable to exploitation.

Our children do work. There is school work, of course. They wash their own clothes, help with cooking and cleaning, etc. Beyond that, no. We’re looking into letting interested children raise fruit trees or do other activities on village property. If any money is earned in such endeavors the child would keep it. If it is sufficient we might require some placed into a school fund for the child – we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

I should add that, having been over for dinner a lot, food prep is hard work. We use almost entirely fresh food from the local markets. There is a lot of washing, slicing, cooking, etc. Last night I sat on our child home’s spacious back porch kitchen and watched as mother Uie was stir frying vegetables, two girls were over at the counter washing vegetables, two more sat on the floor with sausages on the large propane grill – they were singing a song they learned either at school or church – and an elderly lady was slicing vegetables (She is really fast!) at the table in the middle of the room. Even my son Nathan was pressed into service forming the rice balls to be stir fried. I just barely escaped having to work myself.

Is there long-term, trained and well-supervised staff?

Children who are living in outside the family unit often have complex needs and require specialist staff to accommodate these needs. Continuity of staff is important for children to attach and bond with a single caregiver. Where possible a constant caregiver should be appointed to attend to the child’s daily needs promoting consistency and secure attachments to caregivers. Supervision of staff assures that they are upholding the rights of the child and that any difficulties they encounter are met and addressed. Orphanages that rely on foreign volunteers and staff undermine children’s needs for developing long term and meaningful relationships.

Our staff is quite adequate. Our longer term working volunteers provide enrichment, often English education and practice. We easily run without volunteers, but the kids enjoy them when they are here.

Are sibling groups kept together?

It is important that children are not separated from their siblings. Children should have the opportunity to live and stay in small family environments where they have the chance to bond with caregivers and their siblings. Consistency of care is important to children in creating long and lasting relationships. Remaining with siblings also allows children to stay connected to their cultural and family roots whilst they are separated from their families.

Sibling groups are kept together unless the government takes some but not others out of a family. So far for us a splitting of a family has been a government decision, not ours. We do foster girls however, so we may someday have to receive a girl but not her brother from a family. Assuming the brother is not the cause of the abuse, we will do what we can to maintain relationships in those cases. Once we found an elderly woman with her little grandaughter living in the direst of circumstances. We took the child into our child home. We also took the grandmother. Both are with us now and doing great.

Does the orphanage have an active family reunification program?

Are orphanages actively involved in maintaining relationships with living family members so that children can rejoin their family and community? Orphanages should be encouraging community alternatives such as kinship care and foster care above institutionalized care. Orphanages should be able to demonstrate how they are actively exploring family and community care options for children residing in their orphanage. In Cambodia, the government released Minimum Standards of Care as part of its alternative care policy that explicitly states that all orphanages must actively seek family and community alternatives for children living in institutionalized care.

The children we get are true orphans or have been abused in their family sufficiently that the government has removed them. Nearly all of the abuse cases we get can never go back. We do support children visiting their relatives where it makes sense and they are not terrified of going back.

If babies come up for our preadoption care we first try to convince the families, if available, not to give them up. We have not received any babies into our care lately. The last three expectant mothers that wanted to give up their babies went through our process wound up keeping them.

Is the orphanage located in the same community that the child previously lived in?

Displacement of children from their community of origin reduces the chances of the child being reintegrated into his or her community. It also causes disruption of daily routines such as continuity of education, culture and social life and ties. It is important for children to remain connected with their families and community for healthy mental and social development.

We are one of the very few foundations located in the Isaan area of Thailand. Most of our girls come from a 50 km radius around us, and they do visit their home area when that makes sense for them. The vast majority of foundations in Thailand are located in Bangkok or the major cities, and so cannot serve our area as well as we can.

Is the orphanage set up to replicate family living or small groups?

It is important for a child’s development and life after living in institutionalized care to be provided with the opportunity to learn the life skills that come from residing in a small family environment. A small family environment models essential life skills such as cooking, cleaning, how to interact with adults, managing a budget etc. These skills are essential for young adults in learning to live independently from their families. Some children living in orphanages who lack this stimulation become institutionalized and are unable to be an active participant in life outside the orphanage. Living in a small family environment gives children an opportunity to create meaningful relationships with adults and strong bonds with other children.

A small family life is important! We build nice single story child homes. While they live in a regular home our girls also live right in Nang Rong city, the second largest city in our province. They go to school just like the other kids. They’re becoming pretty normal children.

Does the orphanage respect and accommodate children’s background and religious beliefs?

Each child has the right to practice his or her own religious and cultural beliefs. In no way should a child be persuaded or unduly pressured to practice a religion other then his or her own in line with cultural beliefs. Real and meaningful steps should be taken to ensure that a child can practice his/her own religion and cultural beliefs. This may include, but is not limited to, access to religious sites, interaction with religious and cultural leaders, and a specialized or modified diet.

Religious beliefs are respected. Children go to church or to the wat as they wish. Thailand is pretty laid back about religion, so this is not the issue here that it might be in some other countries.

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