By Jeewan Thiyagarajah
In every province in Sri Lanka, children, abandoned, handed over by parent (s) or sent by Courts are found in State sponsored or registered but privately run homes for children. They range from the age of 3-18. Those who run the homes are reimbursed at the end of the year with SLR. 20 per child per day being paid for by the State. An amount which adds to very little but possibly what the State can afford at present. Those running the homes top up to meet the actual costs of maintaining the children.
The homes are strictly regulated with stringent standards imposed with annual ratings for conformity. In about 40 per cent of the instances in which children find themselves in such homes, the parents have as a matter of convenience separated themselves from the children. When the child grows up various members of the family turn up and claim affiliations with the child. We have about 20,000 children in such homes. An effort to re- establish family contact if not move out about 25% of the children from the homes is currently underway.
It is vital in all instances of such foster care for a complete holistic profile of the child along with basic documents to be available at the point of a child entering such homes. Details such as family background, literacy, emotional concerns, general health, skills are all necessary to effectively undertake the role of a guardian while ensuring the best interest of the child. In most instances the child dislikes the separation from family however much of affection is lavished on him/ her in the home. If a child is very young he or she goes to sleep missing a parent. Many though advanced in age lag behind in the class room. When they reach 18 they need to be equipped with life skills to navigate personal lives and earn to live.
Those who run the homes are under stringent watch. If a child runs away hell breaks loose on them. Very few want to work in homes handling such children and are at times traumatized by their own daily experiences. If a child is hospitalized, someone has to be deputized to stay in the hospital. Finding competent staff to work in homes is becoming increasingly difficult. In many instances children are taken to Court on account of long delayed cases, where the law and administrative guidelines provide for expeditious disposal or limits the inconvenience on the child but in practice it is observed in the breech.
Today’s adult is yesterday’s child. Among the children in homes are those with leadership skills who know what it is like to be disadvantaged. They need to be given the tools ideally by more fortunate peers in privileged schools to strengthen their capacity and skills to become successful in whatever area of potential. Such leadership if empowered will act as a powerful force of children from within empowering them to steer paths for the future. The children in these homes should have access to English, IT, social skills, opportunity to develop in sports or the arts and begin to understand options which are available to more fortunate peers. There is no reason why Corporates cannot combine to provide top up ‘education’ and create a job bank for kids coming out finally from these homes to have the opportunities other kids have. The children were separated initially by unfortunate circumstances. When they become adults, yesterday’s child may if strong, be in a position to alter the original circumstances even to the extent of reclaiming if not reuniting with one or more parents. E.g. reforming alcoholics, drug dependents, poverty etc. We now so easily deprive the child of parental contact and deny the right of parenting in some instances particularly when people are poor. Both are outrageously illegal.