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Secondary Prevention – Family Support (Part 2)

Anuja Bansal discusses the importance of everyone working together to prevent family separation
How do you select families and communities for your family strengthening programme? We get into communities which are not really affluent– communities which do not have very many sources of income available to them. Their education levels are low. And then on many of the social parameters they are not doing too well. Once we’ve identified the community then we identify vulnerable families. So not the entire community is vulnerable. Even if they are not affluent, not all of them are vulnerable. Within that community there will be certain families who are extremely vulnerable. So we will identify those very, very vulnerable families– families where children are probably malnourished. Their haemoglobin levels are low. Children are not going to school.
They are probably subjected to some form of abuse. Not always, but sometimes. They don’t have proper sanitation facilities. They don’t have proper shelter. Parents do not have the right kind of livelihood, enough to feed their children also. So we get into these families. We identify. And from that point on our work starts with the community and with these families.
What kind of support do you provide to families and communities as part of your family strengthening programme? As part of our family strengthening programme, we have a four or five pronged approach. I will just broadly list them and then get into the details of it. So one is we look at the essential needs of the child. And we address those needs of the children. We look at the livelihood support that these caregivers or the mothers of these families need. And we address that aspect of it. We do the capacity building of the caregivers and of the children with whom we are working. And we look at the community. We look at sensitising the community.
We look at creating the social security system around these families in the communities. So now after having spoken about these broad four areas, I can just delve deeper into each one of them. The first important thing is really taking care of the basic needs of the child. So once we’ve identified the families, what we realised is that there are a lot of these children in the families whose BMI levels are low– body mass index. Their haemoglobin levels are lower. They are not getting enough nourishment. They’re not getting the right medical care. They’re not getting education. So their basic needs are not taken care of. The first essential and urgent need is to take care of their basic needs.
We make sure that their health gets taken care of. We make sure that these children get enough nutritious food. We also make sure that all these children start going to school. It’s not necessary that they need to go to a private school. They can go to a government school where the education is absolutely free. So this takes care of the essential needs of the child. Now leading from that, it’s very critical that the mother is economically empowered. If the mother is economically empowered, she will on her own be able to take care of her child.
So the next step for us is to engage with the mother, to engage with the family, and make the mother understand the importance of being an income earner for the family. Then we sit with each caregiver and we try and identify what is their area of interest. So whatever that lady wants to do, we will provide financial support to start that business. We will give the lady a sewing machine, if that’s what she wants. We’ll give her money to buy her cattle, if that’s what she wants. We’ll give her money to buy the computer, if that’s what she wants. Now that’s the hardware that she’s got. That’s not enough.
So this is the whole third aspect associated with creation of livelihood, which is doing the capacity building of these women. As part of capacity building we also create the self-help groups. Now the self-help groups are– in the community we will really take, let’s say, 12 to 15 women. We bring them together. We bring them into a small group. And the group itself is called the self-help. Each self-help group will have its own bank account. Each caregiver who is part of the self-help group will have their own bank accounts. Now each individual– the group will together decide, OK, we are going to save, let’s say, $50 a month or $10 a month individually and deposit it in the self-help group.
So every woman would contribute $10 every month to the self-help group. And so the corpus of the self-help group will, over a period of time, build up. Now what does this corpus do? This corpus is actually used by these women in times of their need. So if a woman– someone in the family falls sick. She does not have medical insurance. What does she do? She can take a loan from the self-help group. She takes care of her family. She repays the money over time.
To broadly say what is the purpose of the self-help group– it’s a safety net for these caregivers so that they can, together, work with each other and continue to grow in their economic well-being and on their other aspects of life. So that’s the work we do with the women. Now the fourth important aspect is working with the community in which they stay. So as mentioned earlier, there are a lot of social discrimination, social stigmas that are attached in different cultures. It’s very, very critical to sensitise the community. It is very important to work with the community so that they can become support groups for these families who are vulnerable.
A very important thing that SOS Children’s Villages of India does in our family strengthening programme, is a concept called Bal Panchayat. You know, Bal Panchayat is a Hindi word. If you translate it into English, it means children’s parliament, or children’s governance systems. So not only children from the families that we are supporting but all the other children of the community come together to make a little children’s governance group. And what this governance group does is they discuss the needs of the children. What is it, if the teachers are not coming to the classroom, this children’s group will discuss that issue and bring it up to the village governance body. That in our school teachers are not attending classes.
Our education is suffering. The toilets are not working. Those are issues. Sanitation is not proper. If children are insecure, then how do we address the issues of that? So we then work with these children on how to approach the elders, how to really create a voice for the child in the village community. And then the children start to get to listened to. So as I had mentioned these are the four pronged approach that we have when we get into a community and work with families to make a difference in their lives. How do you ensure your work is sustainable? So in a way, a critical way of ensuring sustainability is creating the linkage with the government.
Because in a country like India there are a lot of government schemes that are available. And that the government has been very progressive in terms of defining the various schemes which are pro-poor, which can help children, which can help families. The challenge here, the challenge in our country, is that either these schemes have not reached the most marginalised. Or even if they have reached the most marginalised, then these families are not aware of it. So how do we bridge that gap? That is important for sustainability. Point number one, it is very critical to create a system of dialogue between the government, between the caregivers, and between the communities. Education system is completely free.
Health care is completely free for poor people. There are also insurance schemes that are available. So those are schemes that are available for these people. In many of those said schemes there are minimum guarantees for employment. Which is, again, something that these families can access. But what is important is that these families are able to fill out the right forms and do the work. And also these government offices are willing to support these families. This put together makes a programme sustainable.

In this video, Chrissie Gale is speaking to Anuja Bansal from India.

Anuja is the National Director of SOS Children’s Villages India which is one of the largest of the SOS member organisations. Anuja has committed her career to social development and has over 20 years’ work experience. She has worked extensively with children and on issues of children’s rights and women’s empowerment as well as helping to strengthen the governance of relevant child protection organisations.

Anuja describes how the family support programme she is responsible for in India identifies particularly vulnerable children who may be at higher risk of separation from parental care. She explains how this programme takes an holistic approach to addressing the different concerns a family may have including those of health, finance, education, and nutrition. She speaks about the manner in which the child is at the centre of all their work and the importance of everyone working together to prevent family separation.

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