At its partnership workshop last week, international development agency EveryChild unveiled a new three-year strategic plan that aims to strengthen the ability of families and local communities to care for vulnerable children and counter the boom in residential care facilities.
The goal of the new initiative is to create “Cambodia’s first gate keeping network”, according to EveryChild Cambodia. It will allow for the reintegration of children without parental care into their communities with the assistance of NGOs.
The workshop was held to discuss with potential partner NGOs strategies for improving the lives of children who lack parental care. Representatives from a number of NGOs and UNICEF also discussed how to assist children in conflict with the law and promote children’s rights.
The three-year strategy will be implemented in April 2012 after feedback from potential partners and approval from EveryChild’s headquarters in the UK. Ken Ratha, program manager of EveryChild Cambodia, said: “Children really face difficulty and risks when they come into conflict with the law.
“Implementing the strategy will engage local NGOs to build a network, and this network will protect and promote the rights of children in the community,” he said.
The boom in residential care centres poses the most significant risks to children in terms of quality standards at some residential care centres, he said. For children who face domestic violence or forced labour, a residential care centre may appear to be a better alternative, but these centres often do not provide appropriate care. They also limit a child’s development compared to what they can receive – with assistance from NGOs – in the familial or local environment they are trying to escape from.
“It’s not a good environment for [children] because they face a lot of difficulties and a lack of care. In a centre, just one person is in charge of all the children,” Ken Ratha said.
There are 269 residential care centres housing 11,000 children, he said. Previously, Friends International and UNICEF launched a campaign against what they called “orphanage tourism”, noting that the orphanages in many cases failed to meet minimum standards of care.
EveryChild’s three-year strategy specifically aims to reduce the number of children staying in residential care centres by preventing children from leaving the community.
“We will increase the awareness of parents and point out the difficulties and risks of residential care,” Ken Ratha said. “We will educate families, and work with local authorities to educate the community as a whole. This will influence change.”
Representatives from local and international NGOs as well as government officials presented proposals to increase child protection that EveryChild Cambodia could use for partnerships.
“EveryChild is trying to build a network of different levels of NGOs who are working to support children’s rights in Cambodia. We engage them in into our consultation process,” EveryChild Cambodia’s country director Srey Vanthon said.
“We are asking all participants to submit their practical intervention plans so that we can combine them and submit our proposal [to our head office],” he said.
Srey Vanthon added that for the three-year strategy to be effective, EveryChild must work closely with commune councils, which “have a role and responsibility to protect children at the community level”.
Educating communities about relevant laws and regulations in place to protect children was also vital, he said.
EveryChild’s research had found that violations of children’s rights are often connected with a lack of awareness about the laws enacted to protect children, Srey Vanthon said.
Ulrike Gilbert-Nandra, a UNICEF technical specialist on HIV prevention and support for families and children affected by HIV/AIDS, said UNICEF was eager to forge a partnership with EveryChild.
“We see great potential for working together,” she said. “UNICEF is looking very much forward to working collaboratively with EveryChild and the selected partners. We would like to see sufficient and efficient collaboration.”
“Partnership is much more than just a transfer of funds,” she added.