State to transition from children's homes to family care

About 45,000 children live in over 800 charitable institutions.

In Summary
  • There's a new Children Act and guidelines to steer the transition. 
  • Official says for every three months a child under the age of three spends in an institution, they lose one month of development.
A parent and a child
REHABILITATION: A parent and a child
Image: FILE

The government plans to do away with children's homes and adopt home care.

The government says a family is a nurturing and caring environment and is the ideal place to raise a child. 

There's a new Children Act and guidelines to steer the transition. 

Currently there is a moratorium in place on the registration of new institutions.

The Children Act, 2022 gives priority to family-based alternative care as opposed to children's homes.

Kenya has an estimated 3.6 million children who are orphans and classified as vulnerable.

Of these, 646,887 are double orphans and approximately 45,000 live in more than 800 charitable institutions.

The new law on children was signed by former President Uhuru Kenyatta and took effect in July.

Kiambu children coordinator Rose Mbarine said although the institutions in place have been doing a good job, it is time the country moved to home care.

She spoke in Kiambu subcounty during the formation of the Care Reform Committee. 

“We do not want to demonise institutions that have been taking care of children for more than 100 years in the country,” Mbarine said.

"The government is moving towards family home care as the best environment for a child to grow in."

The official said in most situations poverty, abandonment and parental irresponsibility are the major reasons why children end up at the institutions.

But there are also extreme cases of violence against children, battering and defilement, she said.

Mbarine said all these can be addressed if all stakeholders collaborated and gave children a favourable environment to thrive.

She said Kiambu has around 100 institutions, the second highest number in the country after Nairobi.

All these will require reforms that will see families and communities invest more in care rather than children's homes.

“As a government, we want to set a good example for the few homes we have since most charitable children institutions are privately owned, so that we transition from keeping children in these homes and embracing family care,” she said.

Mbarine said care reforms will require input from government, private players, churches and communities to succeed.

She said a care reform strategy was developed and launched nationally in June.

The strategy, she said, will run from 2022-2032 with activities that will assist in the transition, according to the interest of a child.

Kiambu Children’s Court principal magistrate Manuela Kinyanjui said the judiciary is embracing the care reforms and it's time for all stakeholders involved to serve the interests of the child.

“Courts should be the last resort for children. We want to avoid committing children or even remanding them in institutions," she said.

"Let families, relatives and even communities embrace the children.” 

Kinyanjui said they want to avoid children's cases since the justice system is not a good environment for children, unless in extreme circumstances.

She urged parents to keep children off custody cases as the matters are sensitive and children end up being traumatised.

Peter Kamau from Child in Family Focus said, “Foundation, consistent care and attachment to parental figure are fundamental aspects that build up a child’s formative years and form a critical foundation for future years.” 

He said for every three months that a child under the age of three is placed in an institution, they lose one month of development.

He said care reform is a change process and it will not be a one-day affair.

Kamau said the new Children Act, which was officially launched in June, recommends that care reform committees be formed in every county and subcounty to help guide and oversee the implementation of alternative family care.

“The train left the station. We are supporting the children's homes and we are not bashing them but showing that now there is a different and alternative way to child care," he said.

The official said the reforms are guided by the Children Act, which provides for parental responsibility and contains continuum provisions for the protection and care of children.

This includes prioritisation of family-based care through fostering, adoption, custody, maintenance, guardianship, kinship care and kafaalah.

Kamau said as the organisation has been working with the Kiambu subcounty, churches and community leaders to make family care a reality.

He said at the moment more than 10 children from children’s home have been put under home care.

(Edited by Bilha Makokha)

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