We need to make our children’s homes safe for kids

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Children at an orphanage. Image from http://www.liftthechildren.org/our-orphanages/

An orphanage is an institution for orphans and abandoned children. I consider it a chance for a child to be nourished, loved and taken care of. This place is where even if children may feel abandoned they get a family though not their blood it means one child out of the streets from danger. Organizations from all over the world support children’s homes through donations or volunteer to help to create a stable environment for the children. While the people who work in an orphanage are meant to have a positive input in these children’s psychological, emotional and health amongst other things, some may take advantage.

One of the headlines on BCC that caught my eye a couple of weeks back was “US man jailed for abusing Kenyan orphans”. I was so infuriated that a man travelled from a different continent to come and abuse one of our own. It made me wonder whether he did it because he thought he would get away with it since he was in an African country. Mathew Lane Durham who is 21, sexually abused children from Upendo Children’s home right here in Nairobi, between April and June 2014. Mr. Durham was accused of abusing more than 10 children in that period of time. A man that claimed to be a missionary but was in fact a pedophile; he has now been sentenced to 40 years in prison in Oklahoma.

Last year UK charity boss Simon Harris was jailed for more than 17 years by UK court for abusing street children between 1996 and 2013 in Gilgil. How much is usually done to ensure that the kids are safe? That the people who volunteer in the name of charity and religion are genuine? In my opinion some measures should be taken before allowing anyone to even help in an orphanage. Some measures are as follows.

Children at an orphanage.  Image from http://www.liftthechildren.org/our-orphanages/
Children at an orphanage. Image from http://www.liftthechildren.org/our-orphanages/

1. Background check: Whether it is a Kenyan citizen or a foreigner, the institutions need to find a way to do a thorough background check on anyone that wants to help in an orphanage for any reason. From the cleaner to anyone else. This is a vulnerable group of children that need to be mentored by people with good motives and a clean record.

2. Interview: For most children’s home having people that are willing to help around is a blessing. Though some people have ill motives and you may only find out if the people who are coming in are questioned. Why are they interested? What are they offering while they are there? Among other questions that they need to answer.

3. Probation and evaluation: Just because these children are disadvantaged it does not mean that their voice should not be heard. In the first month in an orphanage a volunteer should be closely observed and evaluated just like a job. In fact I consider this much more important than a job evaluation because we are dealing with defenseless children. Therefore they should be able to have an input on whether the volunteers should stay or not.

4. Create boundaries: Volunteers are usually the ones that are not there to stay permanently. Boundaries need to be established, they are there to help but they need to have a place of their own that they sleep. They should have specific goals that they need to have attained by the end of their work.

5. Have particular skills: I went to volunteer in Mama Ngina’s children’s home in South C and the first thing they asked “what are your skills?” Basically what was I going to offer the children? The process to get in is not as simple as it may be at other places. You need to get a letter that approves your presence around the kids.

6. Have a counseling center: Every child needs that one trusted person that they can vent to and help them conquer their fears. Some of these kids are often traumatized and as some share their experiences with the other children they may at times exchange a lot of negative energy. They need people who can motivate them and listen to them if they have any issues such as abuse.

These children are vulnerable and need to be protected. The government through social services needs to make sure that these kids are safe and protected from sexual predators or people who want to exploit them in one way or another.

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  1. Quite some thoughtful propositions. However, studies have proven that children’s homes increase the risk of abuse to children by up to three times. This is mainly due to their exclusivity. Children in homes are also subjected to group care devoid of personal interactions making them less likely to report abuse. The ultimate solution to the problem is to support families and communities to take care of children as it was before.

    Its also good to note that up to 90% of children in these homes in Kenya are not orphans or abandoned but are there due to other factors ranging from poverty, access to education and family disintegration amongst others.

    Lastly, the westerners who support these homes closed down similar places in their countries a long time ago when they discovered that even when well resourced, children’s homes inevitably harm the psychosocial development of children. To illustrate this, when Romania sought to join the EU after the fall of the autocratic regime, they were required to close down all the children’s homes and stop inter country adoptions as a precondition.

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