Malaika Babies home was a residential babies centre established in Uganda in 2009 and run by Child’s i Foundation. The reason for setting it up was to “rescue” abandoned and at risk babies and children, however, despite all our efforts to ensure that the abandoned and at risk babies spent spent as little time in residential care as possible, the Founder and then senior staff started to recognise that even children in high quality residential care facilities can experience developmental delays as a consequence of institutional care.
As a result of this learning and realization, Child’s i Foundation started the journey to totally transform their model of care. We Initially, decided to pilot a foster care program as an alternative to temporary residential care for children awaiting reunification or adoption to ensure that children remained in a family as we traced for their families or found them a permanent placement in a loving Ugandan or Ugandan based family.
A number of the resident caregiver staff were consulted and agreed to re-train as “foster carers” to provide alternative families providing care for the children in their homes rather than at the residential care centre. Further consultation was carried out with the government and with the community to promote the alternative families (foster care) approach and address reservations and concerns.
After an initial period of piloting the alternative families (foster care) programme, we made a decision to scale back the residential care home service from a 25-bed facility to an 8-bed facility over a 2-year period. Overtime, and after realising the full cost of running even a small residential centre, and witnessing first-hand the developmental gains made by children once placed in an alternative family (foster care), we were convinced and made the decision to fully transition and phase out our residential care facility entirely.
As the premises were rented, we decided that funds spent on rent and upkeep of the facilities could be better invested in foster care and family strengthening. Staff also realised that, despite the focus on reintegration, the very presence of a residential care facility in the community continued to support the idea of children being referred to residential care. We agreed that we would lead by example.
In 2017 the last child left Malaika Babies Home and the residential facility was finally closed that same year. Most children went into our alternative families (foster care) programme whilst tracing, family reconnection and until reunification or placement in an adoptive family took place, as was the case for all children referred to after the closure of the babies’ home.
Child’s i Foundation’s history of reintegrating children from the babies home, made that aspect of transition easy as the social work team were already trained and experienced, and reintegration SoPs and a case management system were already in place.
A range of family and community led and based initiatives were launched including a gatekeeping mechanism, to reduce the need for institutionalisation and improve children’s access to quality alternative family-based care in cases where alternative care was genuinely required.
In addition to our involvement in a range of family and community-led programs, we also provided technical support to other residential care facilities which later also transitioned the children in families and repurposed their approach from residential care to family and community based services that now prevent child and family separation in the first place.
We continue to develop locally led initiatives that prioritise the protection and well being of children, we have developed parenting peer and advocacy groups as well as youth with lived experience of care wellbeing groups, that champion and advocate for no more orphanages and institutional care for all including and Children With Disabilities. We also collaborate with the government at the national and subnational level to progress care reform policy and inclusive family based practice.