OPINION: National Adoption Awareness Month: Recognising this family building option
By Mercy Ndirangu
Traditional African culture expects a couple to sire children upon marriage failure to which societal pressure can lead to a breakup of such a union.
Children are considered a blessing and the glue that holds marriages together. Thus, a large family was assumed to elevate the parent’s social status. As a result of this perception, a couple would go to great lengths to have children.
Kenyans have embraced child adoption as an alternative way of having children. Prospective parents visit adoption agencies to initiate the process where they can get a child they can call their own.
Although communities in Kenya have mechanisms to provide for children without parental care by placing them informally in the care of extended family or community members, this kinship care mechanism is under threat given the ever-rising socio-economic pressures and weakening family structures. Also, many children are at risk of maltreatment or separation from their families.
Currently, the predominant formal alternative care arrangements are placements in children’s charitable institutions – commonly known as orphanages – or other state-run institutions as opposed to family-based alternative care.
However, the government and civil society have made steps to discourage orphanage care. This is because of the evidence that shows the long-term negative impact of institutionalizing children into orphanages. Also, research shows most of the children in such institutions have a living parent, many of whom want to care for their children if they have the resources they need.
According to the data collected by the National Council for Children Services (NCCS), the Department of Children Services (DCS), and partners in June 2020, at least 29,006 children were living in childcare institutions countrywide. While at least 13,000 of them had families to go to, following the government’s directive to close those institutions, about 15,250 (52.5%) were left behind.
The data further shows that of those released, 4,245 (30.8%) had living parents to whom they returned to, while 4,127 (30%) went to their guardians, and 3,980 (28.9%) were sent to their relatives under kinship care. Also, 117 (0.85%) of the children went to foster care, which is care by an adult not related to the child, and 107 (0.8%) of them escaped and probably are living alone independently, and the rest it was not clear where they were released to.
While it is commonly assumed that childcare institutions provide a haven for children in need and offer a level of protection from abuse and harm, studies have shown that long-term institutional care has a negative impact on a child’s wellbeing including delayed developmental milestones. Other several studies have shown the importance of parental or adult care to a child.
Internationally, November is the national adoption awareness month. This form of care for children is the complete severance of the legal and social relationship between a child and their biological parents and birth family. It is the establishment of a new legal and social relationship between the child and their adoptive parent(s).
Adoption is a permanent care solution and because of its permanent nature is not considered as an alternative care option but a permanent solution for a child who cannot be with their biological parents. This form of alternative care should only be considered after reasonable efforts have been made to determine that a child cannot remain within his or her family of origin or cannot be cared for by members of the family.
The theme for this year’s celebration in Kenya is ‘Engage children and Family: Listen and Learn’.
The NCCS and the DCS, under the Ministry of Labour and Social Services, are spearheading a movement of reforming the care system to shift from reliance on institutional care to the available family-based alternative care options since 2017.
Care reform is a global movement geared toward phasing out institutional care to strengthening family-based care alternative options such as kinship care, foster care among others by expanding social safety nets such as cash transfers and family strengthening programmes.
Kenya is committed to the protection of children’s rights, given its strong cultural history of kinship care. And the country is now moving away from orphanages toward reuniting children with their biological families or finding an alternative family for every child without proper parental care such as adoption. This is aimed at ensuring all children thrive in safe and nurturing families.
Mercy Ndirangu is the Alternative Family Care Advisor for the Changing the Way We Care initiative in Kenya