The COVID-19 pandemic, and the accompanying measures put in place to control it, had a dramatic impact on the most vulnerable children, families and communities, compounding existing structural weaknesses in child protection and welfare systems. In the long-term, the socio-economic impact of the covid crisis, coupled with strained government services, will test the capacity of vulnerable families to care for their children. In this context, it is essential to pre-emptively scale up the capacity of quality family-based alternative care and social protection systems to enhance family resilience and prevent unnecessary family separation and recourse to residential care.
During the first wave of COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court of India had taken suo-motu note in April’20 of the condition of the children in protection, juvenile and foster or kinship homes across the country, issuing directions to the state governments and other authorities to protect them. As many as 146,000 children or 64 percent of those in childcare institutions were sent back to their families as a precaution against the Covid-19 pandemic following directives from the Supreme Court. In this rushed situation, unfortunately the children, families could not be assessed, prepared, and due planning could not be done following the norms of the case management process.
Post second wave of COVID-19 pandemic, as per the latest data on the ‘Bal Swaraj’ portal of NCPCR, there are 30,071 children who have become orphans or have lost one parent or abandoned. The break-up states 3,621 orphans, 26,176 children who have lost one parent and 274 children who have been abandoned. A widespread manifestation of the impact of the pandemic, was found in form of forced child labour, early marriage, child abuse within the home and loss of education.
The response of the government and civil society to this situation shows positive signs of deinstitutionalization of the mindset of the decision makers, judiciaries, policy makers and practitioners and thinking “families first” over unplanned restoration of children from the institutions. In response to this situation, the government and civil society in principal and action impressed upon the need, as far as possible to sustain children in their family and community environment, the MWCD said in its guidelines on caring for Covid-19 orphans. If no caregivers were found, children in institutional care will be put up for adoption through prescribed procedures, those who do not get adopted remain in institutionalised care. Kinship care was also the first solution pursued by India's Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA). Childline placed abandoned or orphaned children (including because of Covid-19) without any caregivers in shelter homes under the care of district-level CWC while a search for relatives was launched.
State Governments across the country have risen up to the aftermath of the covid-19 second wave, issued Government Orders (GO), guidelines, notifications, formulated task forces, nodal officers, announced schemes, measures to support children, families. The civil society organisations, child rights practitioners, experts have been making proactive efforts through awareness generation, advisories, navigating through available resources, schemes to support the government, child protection system in reaching out to the children, families, CCIs, other stakeholders.
The community level child protection mechanisms have been promoted for community gatekeeping in preventing unnecessary separation of children from their families through a broad range of support measures for children, families and communities.
The overarching focus is to reintegrate children back to their families and also making family-based alternative care available to the children. Integrated case management has been identified as one of the most important components to get streamlined and strengthened for planned reintegration. As part of its ongoing capacity building programs with government child protection functionaries, Miracle Foundation India has received increasing requests from the DCPU, CWC, SCPS offices for in depth hand holding, practical insights into standard as well as expedited case management practices.
Miracle Foundation India has taken cognizance of this strong need emerging in its environment and responded among other initiatives with a special webinar series, more specifically termed as workshops. The primary aim of the workshops would be to impart Miracle Foundation’s tested process of case management with organisations working on family strengthening and reintegration of children across India.
This workshop series will be spread across the year (quarterly basis), will be a platform for sharing a straightforward, practical case management process, focusing on tested approaches and tools, led by Miracle Foundation experts with real- world, on the ground experience. Through this effort, Miracle Foundation stresses the importance of process, rather than events that make a reintegration happen. The series also showcases how the non-linear case management process can make informed decisions for child reintegration keeping in mind the necessity and suitability principles.
During these workshops, the voice of youth with lived experience will be represented, and consultation with professionals from other organizations working in this space may be included. The focus will be on skill development on the enlisted topics with the objective that the participants are able to gain a depth of knowledge and develop invaluable skills for practical application in their work. The workshops will be conducted in local language and make use of interactive and highly engaging presentations, case studies and animated videos. After each workshop, participants will be provided additional resources/tips - reference material which can be referred to later.
The first workshop – ‘’Effective Assessment for Safe & Permanent Reintegration of Children’’, in English as well as Hindi was held on 23rd and 25th June 2021. A total of 186 people attended the workshop including government officials, professionals working in the childcare ecosystem, etc. We went live on Facebook, and together reached out to 1864 people, this means we indirectly reached about 20,000 children!
The second workshop in this series is about ‘’Wrapping Support around Family’’ aiming to support the social workforce to identify causes related to family separation & help families identify their needs and service gaps through community engagement. The discussion will focus on the ground experiences in activating community support structures through capacity building, convergence & coordination with key stakeholders while ensuring standards of care, monitoring support & enabled integrated service provision for children & families. The workshop will also witness youth voices sharing the role of bal panchayat & their efforts in ensuring the basic opportunities for children to thrive in families.
The subsequent workshops in this series will focus on understanding the transition process, building resilience through preparation of families, post reintegration support, building self sufficiency in families for successful and permanent reintegration.