Millions of children in India are not able to live with their families due to conflict, exploitation, extreme poverty or lack of understanding about each and every child’s right to family.
Alternative care is a concept that helps India care for these millions of children. Alternative care includes family preservation, sponsorship, kinship care, foster care, adoption and institutions. All of these terms are different ways for care and protection of children.
Here’s a story to help string all of these options together. Imagine meeting little Anjali. She is 5 years old and lives at a railway platform in a city in India; it could be your city. Her clothes are dirty, stomach enlarged due to poor diet and her hair a faded brown due to lack of nutrition. Luckily, someone called Childline at 1098 and she has been taken to the police and government.
First Childline and the Child Welfare Committee searched for Anjali’s family and found out that her mother is alive. Her mother is poor so Childline worked with the government’s Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) to pay for Anjali’s basic needs and education; this is sponsorship. Keeping the family together is family preservation.
Sadly, her mother had mental health issues and could not safely care for Anjali. Anjali then moved in with her aunt who cared for her in kinship care. Two years later, the aunt was unable to care for Anjali. The Child Welfare Committee had a foster home ready and Anjali shifted to foster care because her mother is unable to be located and therefore she cannot go for adoption. For three years in foster care, she was loved by a family until her mother was able to sign over her parental rights. She was then adopted by an Indian family close to the town where she was born.
She comes home when on breaks from university. During transitions between foster care and adoption, Anjali spent a few weeks in an institution. Although it was tough for her, her social workers told her that it was only temporary.
If you could now witness Anjali walking to class, you’d know that her time with family was what makes her the confident world citizen she is today.
The Continuum of Care
All of these options all fall under the continuum of care.
The continuum of care means that each child in this world deserves to be with his or her biological family when safe and appropriate. They deserve to be with their mother and father but if they are not safe, the child should be with his or her extended family and if not possible, with his or her community. Children should have access to their heritage as much as possible. If the parents, extended family or community are not safe or not available for a child, he or she should be domestically adopted or be placed in foster care. The very last option is the orphange.
Our country is strengthening the options of alternative care. Get involved in this campaign and encourage young people like ourselves to learn about your rights and the lives of other children. All children deserve the right to a safe family atmosphere. However, in our country, institutionalisation remains the first resort.
Mr. Satyarthi envisions a world where every single child is free to learn, to dream, to have an equal chance in life. Part of this goal must be to shift institutionalisation of children from the first to the last resort.