The regional consultation of experts "Put an end to the placement of children under the age of 3 in institutions or residences in Latin America and the Caribbean" was held in Montevideo, Uruguay, on 12th and 13th April. It had the participation of experts in the subject, researchers, representatives of non-governmental organizations and Human Rights activists that develop actions as regards this subject, and governmental authorities from Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico (via skype), Panama, Paraguay and the host country, Uruguay. Rosa Maria Ortiz, rapporteur on the Rights of the Child, represented the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Its objectives focused on the elaboration of a text with a "call to action" to put an end to the institutionalization of children under the age of three, the planning of activities and actions to influence the incorporation of the theme in childhood public policies, and the presentation of research papers and experiences.
During the first day, Javier Palummo (UNICEF Consultant) made a presentation on the "Report on the situation of children and adolescents in residential care institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean", and Matilde Luna presented the latest Relaf's piece of research "Discrimination in residential care institutions", whose summary in English will be available very soon. Then, a panel of exhibitions on concrete working experiences was made, in which the professionals from SENAME (the Childhood and Adolescence National Secretariat) presented the results of the Pilot Test, which was developed with the collaboration of Relaf and Unicef during 2012. This Pilot Test included two entities (a residential care institution and a foster care program), as well as multiple training, incidence and advocacy actions, as part of the preparation of the Regional Initiative that is currently being designed.
Representatives of INAU (Uruguay Childhood and Adolescence Institute) and professionals from Unicef Uruguay presented the actions made for the modification of the practices, which aim at fulfilling the commitment to achieve the de-institutionalization of little children in that country.
During the following day, the participants worked in the modality of workshops. First, a workshop on the "Call for action to put an end to the institutionalization of children under the age of three" was held; and then, there was one to produce a plan of communication and an integral plan of action, which includes a phase to prepare each one of the countries, and another one for the entire region.
Relaf actively commits itself with the Initiative, both to collaborate with the entire region and to accompany the countries that have required its assistance, such as Guatemala, Paraguay, and Chile.
As a part of the assessment activities in January, Unicef Chile and the the childhood governmental body of Chile (SENAME) held a meeting to discuss the results of the implementation phase of the pilot project for the de-institutionalization of children under the age of 3 years. This project, in which Relaf is participating since last year, is part of the regional initiative “Stop the internment of babies”. The three entities, SENAME, Unicef and Relaf are working together to review the Final Report of the Pilot test.
In the event in Santiago, after a welcome speech by Tom Olsen (Unicef Chile’s representative) highlighted the relevance of the project in accordance with the Guidelines and their relevance as regards SENAME’s public policies. The latter issue was in charge of its director, Rolando Melo. Subsequently, the results achieved were exposed and a space for comments and questions was opened. Among the conclusions, it was highlighted the importance of the global diffusion of the necessity of having more foster families and raised the possibility of generating a “Clinic Guide for Health” that contributes to addressing situations of children under 3 years old.
The colloquium was attended by representatives of the judiciary, the Undersecretary of Health and other stakeholders involved in the subject. Among them was Alejandro Astorga, who is the project coordinator of the Corporation Option Chile and a member of Relaf’s Consultative Council, who stressed the value of the Pilot Test and the challenge posed by the project, since it raises the Chilean standards as regards de-institutionalization.
The results of the evaluation conducted by the 3 entities involved in the Pilot test (SENAME, Unicef and Relaf) will be of great importance for the design of a national strategy to take on Chile
Relaf was in Santiago de Chile participating once more in the working meetings of the Pilot Test, which is part of the Regional Initiative for the eradication of the internment of children under the age of three. This time it was Daniel Moreira from Uruguay who leaded the technical cooperation activities, the visits to the residential care institutions and the meetings.
In this context, two workshops were carried out: one of them with judges and the staff of civil society organizations, and the other one with the staff of SENAME, all of whom participate in the Initiative. In both cases, the work dynamics consisted in the showing of movies scenes and a debate on the situation of brake-up and separation from little children, the care responsibilities, and the consequences of the permanency of children in residential care.
In addition, he visited the residential care institutions that participate in the Initiative, Hogar Casa Santa Catalina y ADRA, where he held meetings with their staff. During this exchange, it was possible to get to know in more depth the working modalities and strategies regarding the re-integration of children into their biological families, and the evaluation of foster families.
It is worthwhile to highlight that during the meeting held between Daniel Moreira and Soledad Larrain (from Unicef Chile’s Child Protection area) with the General Director of SENAME, Rolando Melo, this governmental authority expressed his interest in getting to know the advances of the Pilot Test. Thus, the value of this initiative and the importance of regional cooperation were stressed once more.
During 14th-17th August the second stage of training for the Pilot Test was carried out with the participation of operators, experts and the staff of various institutions involved in the care and protection of children.
During the first day, the representatives of Relaf, Unicef and SENAME visited the Foster Care Program of Adra, which operates in all the regions of Chile and is one of the NGOs that host the Pilot Test. Its history and modality of work were presented in a meeting with the staff of the Program. Also, the need to carry out a wider articulation between the health care, education and housing and those that deal with the restitution of violated rights was highlighted. The staff of Adra forms a high level, consolidated technical team, with a wide experience and commitment to its task.
The following day, the Seminar on the care of children and adolescents “Recreating opportunities” was held with the participation of 80 people, among them children’s home’s staff, foster families, professionals from the areas of health care, the judiciary, and members of the local organizations that participate in the Pilot Test. The opening was in charge of Soledad Larrain, from Unicef, and Magdalena Lioi, the Chief of the Rights Protection Department of SENAME.
Judith Aude, Uruguayan representative of Relaf, presented the experience of the development of foster care in Uruguay, its background, the learnt lessons, and the proposal to improve the care institutions. During the debate, issues such as the importance of the legal improvement in Chile (which is being discussed in its Congress), the need to have an array of responses for each particular situation, and the tension between the need of a substantial institutional transformation and the resistance to it because of cultural customs were raised.
Then, Judith Aude dealt with the subject of the transformation of social intervention, the cooperative work between different institutions, and the protocols and procedures. In this instance, the participants discussed about the identification of the partners and the possible allies for the development of the Pilot Test, and the importance of taking into account different institutional approaches and working logics in order to allow for a fluid communication between the institutions. It is worthwhile to highlight the interventions of the judges about the necessity for them to approach the work of the operators so as to achieve the articulation of both universal and targeted policies.
During the third day, a meeting was held with the staff of Adra and the children’s home “Casa Santa Catalina”, which is one of the organizations that host the Pilot Test. There, discussions were raised about the aim of improving the cooperative work between different institutions, by enhancing the relation with the Judiciary, as well as about the revision of the legal framework, and the need to further develop the strategies to summon and recruit foster families.
During the last day, there was a visit to the children’s home “Casa Santa Catalina” with its directors. They expressed that the commitment of this institution to go through a transformation and improvement should be planned for all the institutions of the country.
To sum up, the evaluation of this experience was very positive. The Pilot Test is targeted to children under the age of three, that is, the group that shows the most extremely traumatic consequences of institutionalization. This is why it is necessary to elaborate strategies, new methodologies, and innovative ways of intervention from a politic and ethical point of view that is respectful for the Rights of children.
During July, representatives of Relaf, Unicef and SENAME held meetings in Santiago de Chile during three working days.
In this opportunity, the coordinator team was made up of Soledad Larrain and Lorena Valdebenito (Unicef); Ana Cáceres, Alicia Grandon and Flora Vivanco (SENAME); and Leticia Rodríguez (Relaf, Paraguay). They first held a meeting in order to review the agenda, sharing their expectations and organize the logistics.
During the second day, a Seminar was held in the Ministry of Justice and Labor with the participation of seventy people who work at residential care facilities and foster care programs. The subjects that were dealt with were the situations of family break-up and alternative care measures.
In this framework, there was an enriching debate that allowed the participants to reflect on the implementation of the Foster care programs, the consequences of institutionalization, and the difficulties in working with children and adolescents that have been separated from their families. Also, the subjects of the characteristics that a foster family should have, the strategies to recruit them, and their supervision and assistance were discussed, and the obstacles for the cooperation between the professionals of the technical teams and the Judiciary were identified.
Later, the representatives from Relaf, Unicef and SENAME visited the Foster Care Program of “Adra”, one of the NGOs that participate in the pilot test. The professionals of the technical team analyzed their working modalities and their future challenges, among them the development of strategies to recruit foster families. Concrete actions were planned and agreed in order to overcome this difficulty.
The following day, there was a visit to the children’s home “Casa Santa Catalina”, which is the other organization that hosts the Pilot Test. There, a revision of the current working practices took place together with its staff. In this context, the advantages of foster care were highlighted, and the changes that the working routine and approach should go through in the future were discussed. One of the issues raised by the staff of the Home was that of the challenges when working with authorities of other spheres when making decisions for the life of children.
During May 30th and 31st there were a series of activities in Santiago during which representatives of Relaf held meetings with representatives of UNICEF and SENAME (National Service of the Minor) so as to introduce the project and plan the next actions of the pilot test that will be carried out in Chile.
The meeting had the participations of Matilde Luna and Miguel Sorbello on behalf of Relaf; Soledad Larrain, Lorena Valdebenito, Francisca Morales and Carolina Bascuñán on behalf of Unicef Chile; Víctor Martínez, consultant for UNICEF; Flora Vivanco, Ana Cáceres and Ana María Rebolledo on behalf of SENAME; and Alicia Grandón, consultant for SENAME.
First, a meeting was held between Unicef Chile’s working team and the representatives of SENAME, with the purpose of defining the guidelines of the project. In this meeting, SENAME presented the technical lineaments of the Chilean standards, and the implementation of the pilot test was discussed.
Later, there was an activity to work on the strategies to raise awareness among the personnel of children’s homes about the importance of foster care as a measure of alternative care for children without parental care, and the objectives of the program and the details of its implementation were presented. This activity had the participation of the representatives of Family Courts, the “Program Puente” and “Chile Crece Contigo”.
During the second working day, meetings were carried out with the workers who collaborate with SENAME and have a children’s home for babies who are still breastfeeding, as well as with members of the specialized foster families program, with which the project was discussed. Finally, an evaluation of all of the activities was made and the next steps of the regional initiative were defined.
The accomplishment of these activities was possible thanks to the current regional and national conditions. It will be on the basis of the proof of damage caused for children who are institutionalized at an early age that relevant workers of the cooperating bodies, the government and the civil society will be able to implement concrete actions to remedy this situation.
This initiative means an excellent opportunity for Relaf to promote, accompany and contribute to the restoration of the Right to Community- and Family- based care for babies without parental care.