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Why deinstitutionalisation is important

Deinstitutionalisation strategies video by Claudia Cabral
So why is deinstitutionalisation important? Well, as I said I’m psychologist. And the first time I began to work on a big institution and there was something that happened that touched me so much. And that’s when I said to myself, I cannot leave this kind of work. And it is, I was invited to work in the big institutions for babies, children from zero to three. And there were 80 children there that moment. I was studying psychology. And then when I was there for eight months at the end of the year, a car from the government, a bus, arrived and they said, all these children that has already been three years old, they need to get out now. They will leave now.
And there were 20 children three years old. And then everybody began to be desperate. It was something very strong. And the woman that was preparing the clothes of the children, she said, this boy he’s three, he will go, these will go, and these will go. And then the children three years old shouting, crying, entering into the bus, and going to be spread within the system. And I was telling her, what if her mother or his father comes to visit, what do I do, what do I say to them? And then they said, ask them to go to the central administration of the government to see where these children have been placed. That was my personal experience.
And then I began to study on attachment. And I began to understand how governments somehow were not providing good services and somehow provoking and stimulating separation of children and loses, losing, losing no time from one shelter to another. The system was really very bad. Then the next day I went to the central administration with the whole team that was also terrified with the situation. And we saw that a lot of children who were three years old, they have been placed in different institutions. And at that moment, we had a lot of institutions with 1,000 children, 500 children. And what I feel that today we still have institutions with 800 children and 500 children. And we cannot stand this anymore.
And why? Because children, they need individual care. And in a big institution, it’s almost impossible for you to run administratively work like this, being able to pay attention on the real needs of attachment of a child. And so it’s very sensitive and it’s very good, because the guidelines is there telling us how important it is to reorganise these kinds of institutions to deinstitutionalise and to create different ways or institutional care that would not be institutional, but residential care, to have a more personal approach for the development of each human being. What is deinstitutionalisation? What does it mean? It means, deinstitutionalisation means we organise one shelter.
That means offer for children the opportunity to get out of the institution and to reach their families. So it means to do reintegration. But this is a process, it’s very sensitive. You need to start case by casing to decide what’s the best place for each child that is in one institution. So for example, if you have a big institution with 200 children, 500 children, what’s really not good for the development of the child, you need to start case-by-case individual approach. And the system, the whole system, will need somehow to be prepared to receive each case of each child that is within the institution.
So this means that you can have a group of children that leaves from the same– that comes from one same municipality, so this municipality, this local place, needs to be prepared to receive these children. So it’s a big strategic planning that you need to how to be able to compose with each child’s needs. And this is very good, because if you implement a very good process of reintegration, you will also need to talk about prevention, you also need to talk about where are the families of these children, so you will need to come back on the process where the problem began.
And then you, somehow, will be avoiding new problems that can raise on that place where the child was, that child may come from a favela or in Latin American organisation, for example, in Brazil, or it may come from a very rural place in the middle of Africa. And if we want to close this institution and bring children back to their homes, we will need to install good protection services to receive these children. So this means that the whole child protection system will be somehow prepared to help the deinstitutionalisation. If you were to speak to directors of large residential institutions, what would you say?
I think the director of institutions, they play a role very, very important on this process of the deinstitutionalisation. We can really understand that for one person, that for a long time, have been working, believing that’s a good place for the children to stay that they can protect the children that cannot be able to be protected at the home. We can understand that it’s difficult for them to see another way.
But I would ask them to reflect about it, because once you were the director and you feel that your role is almost the role that one mother and one father could have that is, it’s on your behalf, on behalf of your hands, and all the whole institution that you have, the well-being of all of these children. It’s a so enormous responsibility that it’s not easy for them. And if they share this responsibility with those that would be the most important people for the child to be responsible for them, it would be less responsibilities on their shoulders once.
Secondly for the children, for their lives, it would be really very important because they would be facing– they would stay in a place for forever, their family, their original family, so their attachment would be much more important for them. And secondly, this doesn’t mean that this building, this institution, needs to be closed. Each director can understand that they can offer a lot of different opportunities on this building that they have with the neighbourhood, with the communities that they have just outside them offering services with, I could say, even less responsibilities and commitments, because to have the life of 500, 300 children in your hands, it’s really too much.
So they could offer a lot of different programmes to prevent separation and within the communities where they are placed. It’s just reading more and understanding more about why the whole world is talking about this. If you’re to speak to government officials, what would you say about deinstitutionalisation? Perhaps this would be the first actor that we would need to speak to, because nowadays after the guidelines, with the oppression of the child rights approach, all governments are wondering to write policies or to change laws on the behalf of the alternative care. And we cannot talk about alternative care without talking about prevention.
So I would say for the governments, the same importance that you were given to write about alternative care, you need to write in detail laws and policies about prevention. Because if you want to have less children being seperated from the families, or if you want to promote reintegration, then we to close institutions, we to have temporary foster care programmes, temporary residential care, very small residential offers for children that needs to be seperated from the families. We need to talk about how to do reintegration and how to prevent separation. And this means that at the local level, we need to have a very good system installed there. So everything goes together.
And I think we really need not to think that foster care can be a better place than in a residential care, because it depends on each case. And it’s even challenging, because children within the home that’s not visited, it’s not controlled, it’s not monitored, perhaps they can face other kinds of violence, so government needs to think on how they can install services at the really local level to be able to receive all these children that are coming from the alternative care or, and even more, to prevent those who could come into the alternative care.

In this video, Ian Milligan speaks to guest speaker, Claudia Cabral. Claudia is the Executive Director of Terra dos Homens in Brazil which she founded in 1996 as an independent organization with a strategic partnership with Fondation Terre des hommes – Lausanne. Claudia has a Master’s degree from the Institut Superieur de Pedagogie in the Catholic University in Paris and spent time in France studying the European system of assistance to children separated from their families. She has also worked as a consultant for UNICEF in different countries of Latin America and Africa. Claudia is a member of different international networks such as the Advisory Group of the Better Care Network, International Foster Care Organisation, RELAF, International Social Service and Family for Every Child Alliance.

Claudia tells us why she believes deinstitutionalisation is important and explains some of the factors we should take into consideration when developing a deinstitutionalisation strategy.

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Getting Care Right for All Children: Implementing the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children

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