03 April 2020

Coronavirus is an invisible crisis for vulnerable children and families

For children in vulnerable families, Coronavirus is not just a health crisis, it places them at urgent risk of losing their loving homes and childhoods to the neglect of an orphanage. Children already confined to orphanages are facing increased levels of abuse, harm and infection due to staff shortages. These children are voiceless, forgotten and need your help now.

Hope and Homes for Children is working to keep families together, protect children and ensure that orphanages are never a solution—neither now, nor in the recovery from this pandemic.

  1. Keeping vulnerable families together
  2. Protecting children in orphanages from neglect
  3. Keeping children with disabilities safe
  4. Providing family-based solutions
  5. Ensuring a future free from orphanages

 

Our chief executive, Mark Waddington CBE, has written to supporters explaining how we plan to overcome the challenges of Coronavirus—and how they can help.

Why Hope and Homes for Children needs your support.


1. Keeping vulnerable families together

Vulnerable families are under immediate threat from the impacts of Coronavirus. Our social workers will work to ensure their food supplies, healthcare and livelihoods are protected so they can stay together and stay healthy. Providing families with vital hygiene products, essential cash grants and new ways of delivering counselling using mobile communications.

  • The children and families we work to support need our help now like never before. They are among those who stand to suffer most as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
  • These families often struggle day-to-day to provide for their families. The impact of the virus will place their livelihoods under threat, creating urgent pressure on their food security.
  • With little or no access to healthcare and disruption to vital support services in the community, these already-vulnerable families face an unprecedented emergency.
  • Our priority remains to keep families together and ensure children are protected from abuse and neglect at this extremely difficult time.
  • Crucially we must ensure that governments do not confine more children in orphanages, as they struggle to cope with the impact of this pandemic.

How Hope and Homes for Children is responding:

  • We are making sure families have the information and understanding they need to stay safe during the pandemic and we will provide them with soap, cleaning products and other hygiene essentials to give them the very best chance of staying well.
  • We are making sure families have access to the medication they need for at least the next two to three months.
  • We are supporting families where necessary with cash transfers so they can buy essential provisions to keep their family together and stop children being consigned to orphanages.
  • We are connecting families with others in their community so they can support each other, and so that children don’t become hidden and become vulnerable to abuse and extreme neglect.
  • We are replacing face-to-face visits with phone follow ups and increase phone contact with the most ‘high need’ families. Where needed we are taking action to make sure those families can stay connected, for example, buying phone credits for families. We will continue to look for innovative and effective ways to keep in contact and support families remotely.

Hope and Homes for Children calls on governments to:

  • Develop an interagency plan for child protection and care and Coronavirus, bringing together government agencies, NGOs and civil society in areas of health, child protection, education, livelihoods and employment and finance among others.
  • Provide financial aid, different forms of paid leave and other targeted measures to support vulnerable families, as well as suitable accommodation for families of persons with disabilities.
  • Ensure support for vulnerable families is maintained, so they can keep families together or build new families for children without parental care. Social workers, care workers, community workers and community volunteers who are delivering essential services to children and families need clear guidance and adequate support. Increase collaboration between, and training for, health and social service staff who are in contact with children and families in the community.
  • Increase health outreach and education to vulnerable communities to prevent the spread of the virus.

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2. Protecting children from neglect

We are working towards a world free of orphanages. During this crisis children confined to orphanages are at risk of increased levels of harm and isolation due to staff shortages and exposure to disease. Our teams are developing innovative new ways to protect them from neglect and to prevent orphanages becoming hubs of infection.

  • We cannot allow children in orphanages to be the unseen victims of the Coronavirus pandemic.
  • Largely hidden from their communities, warehoused with other children and now with even fewer staff to care for them, these extremely vulnerable children are at increased risk of infection, violence, abuse and neglect.
  • We already know that for every three months that a child under three spends in an orphanage they lose one month of physical growth because of neglect and this pandemic will only expose them to greater risk. With many orphanage staff now unable to work, neglect will become more acute, with lifelong consequences especially for young children and babies.
  • We urgently need to ensure that children in institutional care are protected from Coronavirus until we can place them in safe and loving families. At the same time we must stop governments from funding, supporting or opening orphanages in response to this pandemic.

How Hope and Homes for Children is responding:

  • We are making sure that the orphanages we’re working to close have access to accurate information, soap, water and cleaning products to keep children and staff safe from infection. And we are ensuring that children with underlying illnesses have access to the medication they need for at least the next two to three months.
  • We are increasing the oversight of children and staff in orphanages to monitor standards of care during the pandemic and continue to report all incidents of abuse.
  • We are working with government agencies, institution staff and others to ensure that no additional children are admitted to the orphanages that we are working to close.
  • We are working with other organisations including Lumos, Maestral and Catholic Relief Services, and continue to chair the multi-agency group pushing for elimination of orphanages across the Commonwealth, contributing to a broader initiative led by the Better Care Network, to ensure deinstitutionalisation remains a priority in the response to the global pandemic.

Hope and Homes for Children calls on governments to:

  • Undertake urgent measures to prevent, contain and address the spread of Coronavirus in orphanages. This is not just a child protection issue, it is a public health priority.
  • Increase child protection measures, increase supervision and take all appropriate action to prevent violence, abuse and neglect to safeguard children in institutions. Provide additional psychosocial support to children in institutions and preserve relationships between children in institutions and their parent and families where possible. Contingency plans for large numbers of staff being unable to care for children due to national preventative measures or illness.
  • Fulfil their responsibility to ensure funding for essential goods and services in institutions is maintained, including food, clean water, sanitation facilities and provision of education in the institution if schools are closed. Governments should ensure access to children’s routine medication for chronic health conditions.
  • Avoid sending institutionalised children back into their families and communities without proper process. In the absence of proper planning and preparation, these measures can expose children to significant child protection risks. Sending children from a confined environment back to families or into the community could also promote rapid spreading of the virus.
  • Prevent the expansion, funding or building of new institutions as a crisis response as this is contrary to the direction of child protection system reforms, as specified by international instruments (UNCRC, UN Guidelines on Alternative Care, UN Resolution on Children Without Parental Care). Evidence shows that new placements in institutional care and new residential facilities are not required—including in crisis and emergency response—where resources are properly invested in prevention, family strengthening and alternative care. No new placements of children into institutions are acceptable.

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3. Keeping children with disabilities safe

Children with disabilities and underlying health conditions are especially vulnerable. We are striving to protect them from infection and from further isolation.

  • Children with disabilities who are living with serious health conditions are particularly susceptible to infection whether at home or in institutions.
  • Children with disabilities or underlying health conditions are at heightened risk of infection in orphanages. Coupled with the danger of severe staff shortages during the pandemic, these children are especially vulnerable.
  • We must do all we can to protect them and make sure they are not discriminated against when decisions about the provision of healthcare are made.

How Hope and Homes for Children is responding:

  • We are ensuring children and young adults with special needs are supported to understand the situation and manage stress and putting additional protection measures in place for those who need it.
  • We are ensuring all children, especially children with special needs have access to medication they are prescribed for chronic medical conditions and they have resources to purchase medication for a two- to three-months’ stock.

Hope and Homes for Children calls on governments to:

  • Provide additional protective measures for children with disabilities and their families and ensure inclusion of children with disabilities across all measures. Ensure continuity of provision of essential services for children with disabilities living with their families, particularly during lockdown or quarantine.
  • Ensure individualised care and attention for children with disabilities and that local health and social services authorities must be taking special measures to ensure that the isolation of children with disabilities does not become a compounding factor to their health and that they must develop care plans that provide individualised care.
  • Offer information about infection mitigating tips, public restriction plans, and the services offered, in a diversity of accessible formats with use of accessible technologies.
  • Ensure that persons with disabilities in need of health services due to Coronavirus are not de-prioritised on the ground of their disability. No disability-based institutionalisation is acceptable.
  • That plans continue to move toward family based arrangements at the right time.

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4. Providing family-based solutions

Orphanages are never a safe place for children, they always harm them. Any child who does lose a parent or carer to Coronavirus must be given immediate support, so they are not be punished twice by being incarcerated in an orphanage.

  • Coronavirus will leave more children without parental care right across the globe.
  • Many vulnerable families we work with already struggle to access healthcare, suffer from malnutrition, underlying health issues, have a lack of access to adequate sanitation and live in over-populated areas and Coronavirus mortality rates in these communities could dwarf what we have seen so far in the West.
  • We must ensure that family-based care is the only emergency response for children left parentless because of Coronavirus.

Hope and Homes for Children calls on governments to:

  • Prioritise family and community-based care. Where it is in the child’s best interests to remove them from a family, or in the case of illness or death of parents and carers, family-based alternative care is to made available in all cases. This may include kinship care and emergency foster care as a rapid response for children left without parental care as a result of Coronavirus.

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5. Ensuring a future free from orphanages

Increasing our ability to advocate for children and to influence governments will be vital in ensuring orphanages do not become any part of local or global recovery plans. Now, more than ever, all children need the love and support of a family.

Hope and Homes for Children calls on governments to:

  • Prevent the expansion, funding or building of new institutions as a crisis response as this is contrary to the direction of child protection system reforms, as specified by international instruments (UNCRC, UN Guidelines on Alternative Care, UN Resolution on Children Without Parental Care). Evidence shows that new placements in institutional care and new residential facilities are not required—including in crisis and emergency response—where resources are properly invested in prevention, family strengthening and alternative care. No new placements of children into institutions are acceptable.

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We are carefully monitoring and responding to the Coronavirus pandemic as the situation develops.