Foster Care Program
Heshima Kenya's Foster Care Program aims to prevent further displacement of unaccompanied refugee children and youth, especially adolescent girls; reduces vulnerabilities otherwise experienced from homelessness and frequent displacement; and restores a sense of belonging that can only be provided by a family and community support structure. The objectives of the Foster Care Program are to provide unaccompanied refugee children and youth with safe and supportive homes where their basic needs are met and best interests are considered. We also work to create awareness about this population through informative discussion with refugee community members and groups to identify additional children in need, both indirectly and directly, improving standards of care and protection within the community.
The Foster Care Program was created in January 2008 by Heshima Kenya in response to the lack of available services and safe shelter arrangements for unaccompanied refugee children and youth living in Nairobi. After 17 years of refugee crisis, Heshima Kenya is the first organization in Kenya to develop a foster care program for this population living outside the refugee camps. With little to no support services for urban refugees living in Nairobi, community care networks have weakened, resulting in limited support, encouragement and long-term shelter for these children, especially adolescent girls. In Nairobi, young refugee children are often cared for by the community upon flight from their home countries; however, adolescent girls experience significant difficulty securing shelter in safe homes. Perceived as "social adults" by the community, many adolescent girls frequently shift homes, are treated as commodities where they work as unpaid domestic house help in exchange for shelter and are also emotionally and physically abused. Their basic needs and best interests are often overlooked, including being enrolled in school, treated for medical ailments and receiving protection from forced marriage and sexual assault. Other refugee caregivers are providing safe shelter to many unaccompanied refugee children and youth, in addition to their own families, but need additional support and information about community resources. Heshima Kenya's Foster Care Program works to strengthen community-based care networks by working in tandem with leaders within the refugee community - especially mothers - to identify new and pre-existing caregivers and mentors, and create dialogue about child protection, health education and community resources. In addition, we assess new foster care parents and provide monitoring to children placed in those homes. Food and other resources, if necessary, are provided to families to prevent additional financial hardship, in addition to connecting caregivers with income generating projects to enhance the quality of care provided to foster children and their own families. All foster children and youth placed by Heshima Kenya are eligible to receive ongoing case management support and participate in our Children's Empowerment Project. Along with Heshima Kenya's Community Outreach Coordinator who identifies caregivers, mentors and leaders within Nairobi's various refugee communities, Heshima Kenya's Child Welfare Worker is responsible for providing the following direct service activities to children and youth identified as needing formalized foster care placement and support:
Heshima Kenya uses formal forms to assess new foster parents and a monitoring checklist to document all follow-up visits. Heshima Kenya assessment forms were created with input from UNHCR, and with reference from the Government of Kenya's Children's Act as a means to streamline child welfare provisions, excluding immigration status restrictions applied to prospective "formal" foster parents. Heshima Kenya is currently creating outreach materials to 1) recruit community members to attend meeting about Heshima Kenya's Foster Care program; and 2) for education purposes during meetings.
Heshima Kenya provides foster care placement to unaccompanied refugee children and youth of all ages, but focuses on the special shelter needs of adolescent girls, 13 to 19 years of age, from Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. We focus on identifying caregivers that share similar nationalities and ethnic backgrounds of these specific populations, and also a sensitive perspective about their various special needs, including issues of past sexual abuse, emotional distress, and children and youth with significant medical ailments. Children and Youth referred for foster care may have just arrived to Kenya as refugees, are completely homeless, or were originally living with informal foster families but were abused.
The Foster Care Program is currently funded by contributions from individual donors and private foundations.
The Foster Care Program is supported by three staff.
Program success is determined by a series of quantitative factors based in phases, from identification to eventual placement:
Although retention is considered, it is not an evaluation measurement. We recognize that displacement in Nairobi is often unpredictable, and the range of behavioral issues experienced by unaccompanied refugee children and youth can affect the caregivers' capacity to provide quality care, despite original intentions.
We measure our community-driven outreach with qualitative factors: Does dialogue help community members identify children and youth in need of shelter, and does this lead to indirect community placement, or direct referrals for assistance to Heshima Kenya? Does dialogue about child protection, health education, and community resources help foster families, both pre-existing and new, better understand issues experienced by this population? Does dialogue strengthen the quality of care provided to this population, and if so, how? Through school enrollment, health care assistance, change of sleeping arrangements in the home? Throughout the next year, Heshima Kenya will incorporate verbal questionnaires to collect feedback from individual caregivers and at meetings.
As a new program, outcomes are currently limited to the number of pre-existing caregivers identified and number of monitoring visits conducted. As we continue to develop, especially with the implementation of the community-driven outreach initiative in 2009, we will have the opportunity to better measure our impact, both directly and indirectly.
(USA Based) Co-Director for US Development & Administration
(Kenya Based) CO-Director for Kenya Operations
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The Foster Care Program was created in January 2008 by Heshima Kenya.