Date Published: 2 July 2007

Alternative family-based care for abandoned and orphaned children launched in north of Sudan

The Ministry of Social Affairs for Khartoum State and UNICEF today announced the launch of a communication campaign to prevent the abandonment of infants, change public attitudes to the issue, and increase kaffala ? the Islamic system of community care for vulnerable children ? marking a step away from institutional care towards placement of children with alternative families.

In 2003 an assessment undertaken by a joint Government and UNICEF task force found that an estimated 100 new born babies were being abandoned on the streets of the capital Khartoum every month. Half of these were dying on the streets, the others left with no alternative but institutional care. These alarming statistics led the Ministry, UNICEF and other agencies to develop a pilot programme of alternative family care, which today officially becomes a new policy for caring for abandoned children.

Based on the Islamic system of kaffala which requires communities and families to support the welfare of vulnerable children, some 500 Emergency Alternative Families have been identified, willing to provide temporary care for babies who have been abandoned and would otherwise face childhood in an institution. This period of temporary care allows social workers and agencies to trace birth parents, and attempt reunification of babies with their own families. Permanent Alternative Families have also been identified, to provide longer-term care for children who cannot be reunited with their original parents.

Evidence shows that children's development is improved when placed within alternative families - psychologists have reported dramatic changes in various aspects of motor, language and social development of children placed within this type of care. A team of social workers has been established by the Ministry of Social Affairs to provide professional support to alternative families, ensuring that the quality of care being provided outside of institutions is rigorously monitored and that children covered by the new system will have access to their basic rights ? including health care, recreation, education and pastoral care. The alternative family care programme is also ten times much more cost-effective than institutional care. The Ministries of Social Affairs has also agreed to provide health insurance for babies cared for by alternative families.

The new programme also focuses on the issue of prevention. Social workers are now collaborating with midwives, community leaders and families themselves to try and reduce the risk of abandonment of children whose parents are facing difficulties in caring for them.

The launch of this new programme will also coincide with the planned closure of Khartoum's largest orphanage, Maygoma. In 2004, Maygoma received nearly 700 new referrals despite concerns over the quality of care being provided to abandoned children ? mortality rates ran at 75%. In the following three years, as the pilot family care programme was developed and management of the orphanage was assisted by NGOs Hope and Homes for Children and MSF, more than 2,500 children were moved to the family care system, staffing levels increased and mortality rates fell significantly to 18%. However, as evidence has grown to show that more effective care could be provided with alternative families, the Government has remained committed to the gradual closure of Maygoma.


Source: UNICEF

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