Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

Heshima Kenya

Program Name

Foster Care Program

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

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.

Program Description

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:

  • Referrals: Heshima Kenya receives referrals from UNHCR, the Children's Department and partner organizations for children and youth requiring foster care placement.
  • Recruitment and Assessments: Through Heshima Kenya's group presentations and meetings with individuals, we identify interested women of the same ethnic and cultural background of the child and conduct formal assessments of qualified caregivers. Assessments include visiting the home to conduct interviews that collect biographic and contact information, as well as reasons for wanting to foster, physical security of home and location within the community, questions about how they care for their own family, including perception of education and frequency of medical visits. An additional discussion occurs about their understanding of and commitment to Heshima Kenya's programs and the special needs of unaccompanied refugee children and youth.
  • Government Registration / Non-Registration of Formal Foster Mothers: According to the Government of Kenya's Children's Act, a caregiver is "registered" with the Children's Department if she is a permanent resident of Kenya. Heshima Kenya referrals foster mothers who meet this qualifying criteria to the Children's Department. Due to the scope and complicated nature of the urban refugee situation and the large number of children in need of shelter, Heshima Kenya continues to place children and youth with women who meet the organization's standard of care but who may not be "permanent residents" of Kenya. 
  • Monitoring Visits: Heshima Kenya conducts monthly monitoring visits during the first 6 months of placement, and less frequently thereafter. As many of the youth supported by Heshima Kenya's Foster Care Program are also enrolled in our Children's Empowerment Program, monitoring also takes place through daily conversation with individuals during class times. 
  • Material Assistance: Heshima Kenya does NOT provide cash or rental assistance to foster families. Depending on the need, Heshima Kenya does provide monthly food baskets to families which include non-perishable food items. If necessary, a mattress and bedding may also be provided, along with information about UNHCR refugee registration, family tracing and access to medical care and school enrollment. Other mothers experiencing extreme financial hardship may be connected with existing income-generating projects to enhance the quality care for the foster child and also their own family. 
  • Alternative Placement: Unaccompanied children and youth awaiting placement with foster families may reside at Heshima Kenya's Safe House until further arrangements are secured. We also seek to secure private rooms for group living arrangements of youth nearing 18 years of age. Our goal is to find caregivers willing to provide this space along with general supervision. 
  • Community Driven Outreach: Throughout FY2009, Heshima Kenya will be working in tandem with refugee mothers willing to advocate for the Foster Care Program and recruit other women willing to participate as caregivers and mentors within the community. Meetings will be held with women's groups, churches, mosques and individuals to inform people of the need to foster, and also provide information about community resources, health education and child protection. Monthly meeting will be held with leaders and Heshima Kenya staff to discuss care issues experienced within the community, solutions to enhance quality of care and strategies to identify additional unaccompanied refugee children and youth.

Resource Materials Used in Program

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.

Groups Served by Program

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.

Program Funding

The Foster Care Program is currently funded by contributions from individual donors and private foundations.

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

The Foster Care Program is supported by three staff.

Program Evaluation

Program success is determined by a series of quantitative factors based in phases, from identification to eventual placement:

  1. number of new and pre-existing caregivers identified;
  2. number of caregivers formally assessed by staff; 
  3. number of caregivers who commit to placement; 
  4. number of children and youth placed - this includes both family and group placements within homes.

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.

Program Outcomes

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.

Additional Comments

Program Contact

Anne Sweeney
(USA Based) Co-Director for US Development & Administration
(312) 714-4038
anne@heshimakenya.org 

Talyn Good
(Kenya Based) CO-Director for Kenya Operations
(254) 720 598 359
talyn@heshimakenya.org

http://www.heshimakenya.org/index.php

Program Dates

The Foster Care Program was created in January 2008 by Heshima Kenya.