One of SFAC’s partner organisations is CALM Africa, a Ugandan charity that works with children at risk of abuse and neglect. One such family, which came to the attention of SFAC when CALM Africa asked for advice, involved a boy of 14 looking after four younger sisters and brothers in rural Uganda. Both parents had disappeared and the usual route would have been for the children to be placed in an orphanage. There would have been two major traumatic consequences: they would probably not have been able to stay together, and their land, which was their inheritance, their current source of food and income, and their future, would have been lost to them.
The imaginative solution which has helped this family, and others since, is the concept of Child Headed Households. This works by identifying people in the local community who can help out – by visiting daily to ensure the children are fed, attending school and have access to any necessary medical care – while the children remain together in their present home. The people involved are in essence foster carers at arm’s length as they do not have the children living with them, but they are assessed and appropriately trained to support the family group in their own home. They are often from materially poor circumstances but are able to provide an emotional connection and safe care that is sufficient to meet these children’s needs.
The concept was developed with SFAC support after a visit by Dan Hope and Mick Pease, and remains locally run and organised. Through training and assessment CALM Africa identify which families this support can be offered to and which children are too vulnerable
for such support. Child Headed Households are a feature of life in rural Uganda and with a shortage of foster carers and all the problems associated with orphanages, this is a current response that works with the local community to safeguard children. For example, CALM Africa also identified a local farmer who mentored and employed the older boy so he could learn skills to farm his own land and become self-sufficent.
‘SFAC coming to CALM AFRICA was the turning point. They gave us the information, support and advice to help keep children in families in their own communities. They made us realise it was possible even though I initially thought it was not!’ – Joseph Luganda
CALM Africa has moved from a position of some scepticism about fostering to taking a leading role in establishing the principle of family-based care throughout Uganda in different ways that work even in areas of significant poverty.
Joseph Luganda, now head of foster care with CALM Africa, regards the initial contact with SFAC in 2011 as a turning point, both personally and for the organisation. He credits SFAC with changing their perception of the best place for a child to grow, and persuading them that something they never thought would work was in fact the way forward. He is proud of the fact that CALM Africa now champions the promotion of community-based foster care in Uganda and has been instrumental in ensuring that this is enshrined in Ugandan government policy. His colleague James Ssekiwanuka echoes these sentiments, and recalls positive outcomes from SFAC training in child protection and fostering, along with information-gathering visits to the U.K. to look at the system in practice. Both of them confirm a decrease in institutional child care in their country and a growing confidence in family-based alternatives.
They also thank the support that they received from SFAC as they were unable to receive this help from others as they could not afford to pay for training or consultation advice. Through SFAC paying their own flights, accommodation and not charging any fees CALM Africa was able to receive this training and even visit the UK with SFAC support to see how foster care operates in the UK; information they have been able to use to support its growth in Uganda.