On the frontline of Coronavirus for children and families: India
Lockdown in India is making life harder than ever for vulnerable children and their families. Hope and Homes for Children is working in Jharkhand state in the east of the country with local partner CINI on a strategic project to keep children safe in families and prevent them from being trafficked or confined to orphanages. Project leader, Subhadeep Adhikari, describes the impact of Coronavirus on his team and the children and families they are working to protect.
For families, resources are very limited during this lockdown period because only essential services remain functional–shops selling food, medicines and cooking fuel, for example. Another problem is that there is a limited stock of food and the demand is huge.
In the village communities and the slum areas where we work, shops are running short of supplies so at family level, there is a shortage of basics including rice and other grains that people need to survive. Also, the shops are not opening for long–just two to three hours in the morning and again in the evening, maximum.
With the support of Hope and Homes for Children, we have been able to allocate £6,000 to provide emergency food and medical supplies to around 500 of the most vulnerable families in our project areas, as well as hygiene kits and food supplements to children in orphanages. At the same time, we are making every effort to link families with the government schemes and programs that are being established to help people cope long-term with the impact of the Covid-19 crisis.
“In the village communities and the slum areas where we work, shops are running short of supplies… we have been able to allocate £6,000 to provide emergency food and medical supplies to around 500 of the most vulnerable families”
The Government has been very proactive to help vulnerable families and people in need. They have come up with economic packages for families that are linked to various food security schemes where people get subsidised rations from the shops, for rice, sugar, oil and so on. Now they can get them for free. But it is taking time to organise because of the shortage of supplies and it’s hard for families to be patient if they are hungry. Several voluntary organisations are distributing food to communities, so this kind of effort is helping to reduce the pressure.
I lead Family First, the strategic project, jointly implemented by Hope and Homes for Children and CINI, to strengthen gate-keeping and safeguarding mechanisms at community level in Jharkhand state. We are working to ensure the care and wellbeing of children and prevent them from being trafficked and entering institutional care. We work closely with institutions to reunite children with families and to help the institutions transition away from institutional care by developing community-based support services and emergency care for children.
Now, we are trying to address the concerns of families through phone calls and mentoring sessions and we have regular calls with the institutions we are working with. We are liaising very closely with them to understand how the children are doing and if they are well. So far, everything is fine. The children are safe and healthy and the staff too. They are taking all kinds of safety precautions and measures to prevent Coronavirus entering the institutions as per the Government guidelines.
“We have regular calls with the institutions we are working with… They are taking all kinds of safety precautions and measures to prevent Coronavirus entering the institutions as per the Government guidelines.”
Before the lockdown began, the Director of the State Child Protection Society issued a directive for all the child care institutions and child protection bodies with instructions on the measures that had to be taken in relation to keeping children and staff safe from Coronavirus.
No external people are allowed to visit, staff must live on site and not be allowed to come and go, all utensils, clothes and towels and everything that children are taking for their personal use should be washed regularly with disinfectant and all types of hygienic measures should be taken by the staff from handwashing to cleaning of bathrooms and toilets, floor mopping and so on.
After calls with the institutions, we can confirm they are following the directive. They are practising hand-washing techniques and regular health checks are being carried out to take people’s temperatures. If symptoms of the virus appear, it gets reported immediately to the health department.
“[Children in institutions are currently unable] to return to their biological families or join new families… as we are not able to properly assess and monitor whether families are practising proper protection measures.”
As per the directive from the Government, there are no new admissions of children to the institutions and no release of children to return to their biological families or join new families through fostering and adoption*, as we are not able to properly assess and monitor whether families are practicing proper protection measures.
With local social workers and child protection networks in the communities, we are calling them on a daily basis to cross-check with them on children who have previously returned to families and children in vulnerable families, at risk of separation. Calls are also being made to understand any issues of violence reported in the community which threaten children’s safety and any health hazards with the families of any of the children. At the same time, we are working with families to find ways to involve children and adolescents proactively with child engagement activities at home, to generate awareness of the Covid-19 emergency, to share information about Government schemes and programs to support vulnerable families and children during lockdown and to identify any gaps and challenges in implementing these programmes.
The team in Jharkhand is working well and we are keeping in close contact with each other through WhatsApp groups, regular online team meetings and Skype calls. We are also updating essential paperwork to make the best use of time and preparing evidence-based advocacy documents that will help us to share the impact of the programme in the future.
“It’s a different situation now where we need to act differently and adapt. The kind of work and the pace has to be different.”
It’s a different situation now where we need to act differently and adapt. The kind of work and the pace has to be different. We have had to minimise the field operations. Firstly, all the activities that we were planning in relation to the orphanages, such as developing new services and reintegration of children, are on hold for now. This means we will need to focus on planning these activities for when we can get back to work and, in the meantime, do what we can remotely and through our networks in communities.
We have had to realign some programme activities and budget lines because the circumstances will call for different actions once the pandemic is over to meet the needs of families and children at that time.
Even when we resume work, we will have a lot to do to catch up, to understand how this crisis has affected communities and the impact that it will have on the implementation of plans.
We will not be able to start meetings and trainings, in communities and with institutions on Day One after the lockdown is lifted. It’s going to take time to get up to speed and get organised. We will have to work together to come up with clear indications on what we can deliver in the four or five months after the lockdown ends.
This pandemic has created so much fear among communities. It’s so hard to believe that so many people are dying every day, in countries like Italy, the US and Spain. We remain strong and we are using this time to innovate and find new ways of communicating and encouraging each other.
*Since this piece was written, lockdown restrictions in India have eased and the Supreme Court has issued a guideline, allowing local Child Welfare Committees and Districts to reunite children with their families where they are confident it is safe to do so and following all lockdown protocols.
Hope and Homes for Children’s Family First strategic project with CINI in Jharkhand, India is made possible by the generous support of Oak Foundation and through our Global Charity Partnership with Allen & Overy.