Second Response: Emergency care
This stage has two elements; first ensure the child's immediate safety then carry out the Gatekeeping. When abandonment or separation does happen or when a child is at risk or abuse or neglect, immediate steps need to be taken to ensure the child's safety and well-being. Emergency temporary care can be provided with an extended family member, a foster family or in a children's or babies' shelter.
For children at risk of abuse, or suffering abuse, emphasis should never be paced on removing a child from the danger, rather focus should be on removing the danger from the child.
The death or disablement of a parent or primary care-giver can mean that emergency provision must be made for a child. Poverty should never be the only reason to remove a child from his or her home.
In the case of abandonment, the family needs to be traced and the situation understood as part of the Gatekeeping process.
Gatekeeping can be defined as policies, procedures and services that enable decisions to be made taking into account the best interest of the child also taking into account the services and facilities available. The aims being the child's reintegration back to families or substitute families and to prevent the flow of children into institutions.
There are four components to Gatekeeping.
- An authority responsible for coordinating the assessment of the child's situation.
- A range of family support services in the community, including family-strengthening, foster care and adoption; alternatives to care in an institution.
- Decision-making process based on assessment of the child's needs and circumstances.
- Information systems to monitor and review decisions and their outcomes.
In Uganda many of the community-based services are being created and there is the opportunity (and need) to build into their designs, information systems that monitor and review decisions and their outcomes. This component of Gatekeeping should not be left as an after-thought, or an optional add-on.
As long as funding for child protection remains heavily focused on funding institutional care, community-based alternatives are likely to remain underdeveloped. Politicians, government officials, donors, churches, NGOs and institution staff have in the past shied away from redirecting resources from institutions to community-based alternatives. There are still many pull and push factors, and vested interests that support the continuation of institutions.
Over the past two to three years, there has been a strong signal from Government, supported by some sections of Civil Society, that alternatives to institutional care can be created and have to be created, in the best interest of children. The Alternative Care Framework, published in 2012 is the official guideline to responding to OVC.
The campaign to promote the Alternative Care Framework, started in 2012, has started to build an awareness that the 'either-or' argument, to leave children destitute or build orphanages is not a valid response and not in the best interest of the child.
Similarly, the 'either-or' for short-cuts in the international adoption process are not valid. To argue that a child being in an orphanage justifies ignoring the Children Act and jumping straight to international adoption, ignores both the law of the land as it is intended and ignores the continuum of care process as detailed in the Framework.
These are serious failings by those involved in building and running institutions. Now is the time for their strategies to be rethought and investment redirected to services and support for OVC in line with the official Framework.