De-Institutionalizing Orphanages and Social Care Homes in Nigeria – The Pros & Cons

There has been global drive for de – institutionalizing social care homes and orphanages. Technically, drive has entered Nigeria with many seminars and training suggestive of emptying children homes and orphanages. What is De- Institutionalization (DI)? De- Institutionalization is the process of closing an institution or institutions through the development of a range of family based alternative services meeting the needs of the children resident in the institution(s).
DI is a method of transforming child care system based solely on institutions into modern child care systems based on a range of care alternative designed to respond to the children’s individual needs. ISSUES RAISED AGAINST INSTITUTIONAL CARE 1) Institutional care are care said to have negative effects on children raised within the walls of social care homes, children do not benefit from environment which enables them to develop to their potentials. 2) Institutionalized children are said to be deprived of opportunity to learn through play and have adult mentorship. 3) Institutionalized children are also said to be deprived of good stimulation, affection or
attention of a real parent. 4) They are said to lack sense of identity and belonging, they are isolated from their communities. 5) Deprivation of opportunity to learn life skills in the social care home e.g they might not know how to cook, handle money, use public transport on their own or relate with people . Now let us look at reasons for Institutional care in Nigeria
In Nigeria there are two categories of orphans in social care institutions namely the biological orphans whose parents are deceased and the social orphans (Vulnerable Children) whose parents are mere shadows of their existence. In Nigeria both classes of orphans are at risk of survival. Reasons for institutionalizing the Children. 1) Economic Depression Poverty is a strong dynamic in how children get to orphanages in Nigeria. Children from extremely poor families are abandoned in churches, dump sites and public places. Since there are no children emergency shelters for immediate care and protection of these children and the Government owned Institutions are overstretched, the juvenile
By Rev. Gabriel Oyediji

police or social welfare department of the State ministry have no choice than to place them in social care institutions/orphanages pending investigation. In under- developed country as ours, family breakdown, single parenthood and poverty seems to be the main underlying factor for placing a child in orphanage or other institutional care homes. Many families in Africa are challenged with poverty capable of predisposing them to abandoning their children anywhere for anyone to pick and help. Problems of Impoverished child welfare services, inadequate health and social welfare services for parents (e.g. mental health rehabilitation Centre) all contribute to how children get into institutions unavoidably. What happens in a country where parents are abusive, neglectful and incapable of meeting the physical and psychological needs of the child? Where else would they go for respite and for survival needs than a social care institution? What about parents with out of control children? What else can they do when they can no longer keep the Child? Or where can they find a placement for a stigmatized child branded a witch outside a public social care institution? What about children with physical and mental disabilities that are dumped daily by their parents for lack of financial capacity to sustain their care? What about illegitimate children and children from single parents? A family I know once gathered together in a big family meeting and corporately placed a curse on their 16year old daughter. They formally disowned her and warned her never to come near the family again or bear the family name. They alleged she was an out of control girl whose misbehavior caused her mother severe embarrassment and eventual death. I took her to my institution and gave her psychosocial support needed and eventually enrolled her into a vocational program. Now where do you get family or kinship cares for someone like her or even foster care, let alone adoption? Summarily, vast majority of orphans and vulnerable children in Nigeria are placed under social care institutions in their own best interest because they are already abandoned by their biological parents. Some Children suffer disability and no member of the family is willing to cope with or want to be identified with them. Some children are in social care homes because of
paternity tussle, social reasons such as family illhealth or parents in prison or rehabilitation home or victims of communal war or internally displaced children. It seems to me that keeping Orphans and vulnerable Children in social care institutions in Nigeria is more of an available option in a depressed economy marked by high risk of survival of children. The social welfare department who could cushion the effect by empowering poor families for home based care is severely underfunded. Certainly, if our economy is buoyant and poverty level is reduced and there are sustainable resources for families, no child will be kept in other people’s custody.

It seems a paradox to find large number of orphans and vulnerable children in Nigeria orphanages and yet adopters don’t get them. Many have accused orphanage operators in Nigeria of merchandizing their so called humanitarian services. A number of people are worried as to how long these children will be kept in the social custody against the interest of desperate adopters willing to have them. The answer is simple, while some operators may indulge themselves in reckless malpractices of keeping the children for business, it should however not be generalized as some people think. A deeper look into operation of orphanages in Nigeria revealed that not all the children are orphans and not all the children are adoptable. Some of the children may be under family court investigations particularly in states like Lagos state where the child rights law is being fully implemented. The cultural practice that enhances rapid investigation and release of children for adoption by Juvenile police centers and the Ministry of social development has changed. Both the social welfare ministry and orphanages now have to strictly follow the rule of law as entrenched in child rights law. Under the Child rights law every Child has to get a care order from family court before enrolment in any orphanage or home. The family court magistrate has to do a constant case review of every child and request the family social services to conduct all relevant investigations to the satisfaction of the court before a dispatch order is issued that allows a child to leave the home for adoption or for fostering. Some of these children cases suffer unending adjournment and inconclusive investigations that may run for years and by the time the case is concluded that child has aged out of popular age demand by many adopters. Under the Child rights law no orphanage can legally or out rightly release a child for adoption or receive a child into the home (except under a proven emergency case which must be tidied up within 24hours) In fact one of the biggest burden of orphanages at such an era of charity fatigue as this is how to cope with feeding, clothing, school bills, medical bills, staff salaries and maintenance. No known registered orphanage in Nigeria get monthly or yearly financial grant to cope with the increasing financial responsibility. Why will they now want to institutionalize? In fact the Lagos State Government Ministry of youth and social development officials has been doing her best to get families for institutionalized children and decongest orphanages but yet the law has to run its course. Orphanages are also not finding things easy due to charity fatigue as donors and sponsors keep disappearing. I have heard one or two orphanages asking me if the social welfare department have space in their shelter or where they can dump the children under their social care. The number of family courts is inadequate to cope with the cases of many children in homes and orphanages. Most of the family courts are of improvised structures and not purposely built to create a conducive environment for the magistrates and the children. The consequences of untold stress on the family court magistrates is frequent adjournment and prolong delay in getting dispatch order needed to get the children out of the orphanages. In fact, orphanages and homes under child rights law suffer untold hardship of bringing the children to family court alongside many expenses they run daily without financial support anywhere. The truth of the matter is that orphanages are willing to release children for fostering and adoption as a way of reducing burdens, but yet, they can’t achieve this without the family court dispatch order. Unfortunately all accusing fingers are pointing to operators of orphanages. For instance in Lagos state, the Ministry of social welfare has intensified their efforts to de
institutionalize orphanages and homes, sometimes they even bring up application to court for biological parental right termination where they found that a child has been abandoned in the home for too many years and all effort to get the parents have failed. However, their request is still subject to family court decision. The family court operation mandates the presence of two court assessors before the court can sit. Now assessors are drawn from different ministries without sitting allowances and any motivation, what now stops them from skipping appointment and causing frequent adjournment of cases? We entered into child rights law implementation without adequate capacity building for specialized children police unit, for court assessors, for social workers in the State Welfare Ministry, for orphanages and Government institutions. The Child rights law seems cosmetic requiring good funding and more Governmental attention. Too many complications in the implementation presently perpetuate the holding of children under institutional care in Nigeria. Unfortunately, all the accusing fingers point to operators of institutional care. Nevertheless, a careful observation of the impact of child rights law and the family court operation in Lagos shows a streamlining of practice in Lagos orphanages marked with excellent monitoring and evaluation, good home practice, anti-trafficking devices, clean and healthy environment for children, safe keeping of children, good ethical practices etc. ADOPTERS SELECTIVE DISPOSITION Prospective adopters in Nigeria are very selective. 90% of request for adoptable children in most orphanages fall between three months and six years. Some will want a particular colour that resemble them or a size or height. But the worst of all is the age bracket rigidity. The moment a child gets over six years old, they begin to face rejection from adopters and the orphanage will be constrained to continue keeping them in the home. Unfortunately, when people notice this population of children in orphanages they frown at the homes without asking questions. Some of these children arrived at the orphanages at older ages as lost but found children. In 2007 Juvenile welfare center Alakara and Adeniji Adele had their children holding facilities overcrowded with many lost but found children. They also ran out of food supply, consequently the officers in charge had to call on registered orphanages accredited by the state. Over 50 children were distributed to four orphanages with police referral extract, the age ranged between 7 and 8 years, most of them were recruited for child labour, some missed their ways, some ran away from their employers. Bulk of them had no clue as to their family name, home address, tribe or state and could not communicate in English. Home tracing was most difficult while television screening yielded no result. Proposal for adoption or fostering was impossible as their police extract carried ‘care and protection’. What now happens? Most of them are still in the Institutions they were placed since then up till now and are aging out of homes attaining 15,16,17 years of age. How can we blame the orphanages for standing by them in the institutions, giving them education, vocational back up and psycho-social support for over nine years? Proponent of deinstitutionalization must take a look at Nigerian socio-economic situation first before running down home operators. It should be noted that the last statistics of UNICEF of the population of orphans and vulnerable children in Nigeria puts the estimate at 17.5 million (2007) while the figure is expected to have increased by at least 20% by now. Furthermore, it is known that 60% of this figure of orphans and vulnerable children live in public and privately owned institutions and of this 60%, about 40% are living in privately owned orphanages all over the country. Now the question is how do we move this 60% to non-institutional care and how long will this take?

Advocates of non-institutional care would have noticed horrible experiences of Children affected by AIDS (CABA) under kinship and Family care projects. How much of the supplies get to the children. Social funds and grants diversions begin from disbursing project officers down to facilitators and finally by the family members leaving the children to suffer, drop out of schools and enter the street to join the chartered members of homeless society. Many of these orphans and vulnerable children die daily from poor medical attention, child labour and neglect right under the nose of their family members. In fact many of them walk into registered institutions for enrolment. Most of these orphans don’t get any serious supervisory care and family attention needed. Most of them are circumstantially dragged into already overstretched polygamous settings where the father is hardly available for any child. They grow up lonely and detached from the family, no attention, no relationship and if any empathy at all possibly on the remembrance day of their deceased biological parents. How can the welfare and safely be properly monitored in a restrictive environment. In orphanages and other public institutions in Lagos for instance atleast two family social service (FSS) workers are attached to closely supervise the welfare and safe keeping of the children under the assigned homes. It is also a signed deal that operators of homes must be ready to open their orphanages for inspection anytime of the day. I can still remember one night around 11pm when suddenly some officials of Ministry of Youth and social development came in and began to check all the children and their rooms in my institution. Another morning it was a special adviser to the Governor occupying the office of home investigator that came in and began to check everywhere. The child Welfare department of the Ministry of Women affairs and Poverty alleviation also reinforce supervision of public and private institutions, sniffing around for any form of malpractices. How can this be achieved under non institutional care? Once the family closes their doors no Jupiter can force them to open it. If non- institutional care must work in Nigeria our economy must improve first, the current war against corruption must begin to yield gross result in all sectors and sincerity of social environmentalist handling donations, public funds and grants must be ascertained, the current campaign against child abuse must be intensified and the consequences of child abuse be clearly made known to all families in Nigeria.

H O M E  T R A C I N G  E F F O R T S F O R INSTITUTIONALIZED ORPHANS & VULNERABLE CHILDREN In a desperate bid to de-institutionalize orphanages, some home operators embarked on home tracing exercise for the purpose of getting the families of the children under their care. However, these efforts have suffered some setback from the inability of these children to identify their origin, their state or even their tribes. What can the home do in the absence of information about the child’s background or Parents? Nevertheless, the discovery in some of the successful search can be just funny. Imagine a boy called Segun in one of the Orphanages in Lagos where the operator embarked on a wild search from Lagos down to Ikire in Osun State and after some days he was able to locate family members of the boy who has spent nine years in his orphanage. It was a great celebration and a loud praise unto God for the recovery of their lost son after nine years but guess what happened thereafter? They begged the orphanage operator to return the boy back to Lagos to finish his secondary school while promising a regular visit and follow-up but since then (now over three years) not one family member has come to see the boy or phoned the management to ask after him. Their financial condition incapacitated them up till now. What about Moshood from Ibadan in Oyo State, at the time the operator traced and located the mother, she was found in a dilapidated building alone practising her occult trade, she noticed great change in the appearance and size of her son, gave kudos to the orphanage and begged the operator to take him back for more help lamenting her predicament in a semi-collapsed building where she is staying. She visited her son once only to see him in fully air conditioned room with Plasma television and Hotel like environment. She begged further to have her son stay in the institution. She smiled out and made her way back to Oyo State saying there is nowhere around her where the boy can enjoy the facilities she saw in the Orphanage. Hence, she begged the operator to help further at least for the boy to complete his WAEC before coming to take him. Kunle was brought to another home from Juvenile Police Centre Alakara eight years ago, the family had thought he has been used for sacrifice by his uncle until Kunle remembered the area where he stayed last before he got lost. The operator spent time to locate the house and later contacted the family. It was an explosive kind of celebration and rejoicing. They followed the operator to the Orphanage and saw a nice Hostel environment, learnt the boy was in high school, saw a far bigger and healthier boy looking better than the boy they knew before. They went back home only to start begging the operator to continue the good work he
was doing for their son. The boy is still in the home up till now (Five years after the family was located and contacted). What about cases of many children once deinstitutionalized and legally adopted by families who later returned them back to the institutions where they were adopted many years before? atleast, I have two cases right in my Institution now. These are just a few of many tracing cases that yielded no retrieval benefit. Many homes particularly in Lagos State are not really what people think about them. Most of the children look very good, very happy and very hopeful. They see the operators as fathers and mothers and any one can see relationship clearly written on their faces. Visit SOS villages and see how children feel good in different apartment. Some have graduated from university with good passes. Some have gotten married and are leaving happily with their spouses. At my last visit to one of the orphanages, four children just returned from summer holiday in Barcelona Spain and I learnt that is where they spent summer holiday yearly, Courtesy of Life Foundation, Spanish families and the Lagos State Government. The question is how many noninstitutionalized Children enjoy such privileges in Nigeria? In fact, as long as there is a clue to locating families of the children in Orphanages, the job of deinstitutionalizing is quite easy, unlike where there is no clue of locating any member of the family. But what happens where the family court processes under the Child’s Rights Law remain cumbersome and boring? Where the Government Children Shelter facilities are filled up! Where there is no budget for the family social services to pursue required investigations! Where there is no fund for Juvenile Welfare Police and Social Workers in the state Ministries to facilitate and speed up investigations! Where dispatch order needed for the release of children for adoption or foster care is delayed! Certainly, the children will remain in the institutions and Orphanages should not be blamed. Keeping Children in orphanages is not as pleasant as people think particularly in Nigeria where operators run with meagre resources at their disposal, Where companies who ought to help through their corporate social responsibility(CSR) project and reduce taxes payable to Government will rather bribe auditors to achieve minimum tax remittance and have no need for CSR. SUDDEN CRISIS TIME Another hurting experience orphanage operators go through is when there is a loss of a child in their homes. The emotional trauma of bereavement is usually escalated by difficulties in storage of baby corpses particularly when death didn’t not occur in a public hospital. Most times the operator is solely saddled with the responsibility of searching for morgue to keep the body. They move to the police station for extract, to the State Ministry for letter of authority for autopsy and acceptance of the corpse and Pay the pathologist autopsy bill etc. Then they begin court investigation process as to the cause of the death and the authenticity of the document presented. This process is usually marked by serial adjournment that could last up to three years. Whereas under non-institutional care, the family of the deceased child only meet for one or two hours and the entire process is concluded and the child quietly buried and the only noticeable remorse is about the cessation of flow of fund coming to them. Sometimes the institution operators may carry the corpse of a child a whole day before getting storage facility, meanwhile, the Child rights law stipulates that no dead child can be buried by any institution without autopsy report fully signed by a morbid pathologist. Sincerely, it is not all that rosy to operate an orphanage in Nigeria as many people think. Why then should they reject deinstitutionalization? The biggest issue is about having acceptable and sustainable options that is not fraught with corruption, deceit and insincerity.
HOPE FOR NIGERIAN ORPHANS, VULNERABLE CHILDREN AND INSTITUTION OPERATORS Nigerian homes and Orphanages will certainly one day be de-institutionalized and Emergency Children Shelter will take over, this will happen when our social economic situation improves such as good employment, sustainable vocations, Government houses (Shelter) for poor homeless families, family stability, improved social welfare facilities, very reasonable allocation in National Budget for Social Welfare. Then the Nigerian Child will enjoy full benefit of family life, good parenting atmosphere of natural freedom and joy, full value of childhood and freedom from any form of incarceration.
The children will enjoy non-isolated life from their kinsmen and community; have full identity and belonging, stimulation and full attention of parents. Then operators of homes and Orphanages will be relieved of the burden of how to train, feed, clothe and have the children marry and settle down in life. Owners of orphanages will have privileges of spending time with their own families and children; Enjoy the facilities once taken over by orphans and vulnerable children; Have privileges of extending their social care callings to other needy members of the society e.g. Senior citizen homes, Rehabilitation centres, Visually Challenged homes etc.

Orphanage operators will have rest from uncontrollable pressures of adopters and frequent visit to family courts will become a history. They will have rest from struggling to get donor’s assistance to save infants living solely on baby foods. Etc. However, it will cost home operators the passion and callings they have for child care and protection and the affectionate relationship they once had. Nevertheless their consolation will be found when they are convinced that the children are in a better place with myriad of positive transformation seen on the children in the new environment.
When a family based solution is found for every child which serves their best interest! When there are sufficient human and financial resources to allow social welfare packages for families and children at risk! Then the controversy will end.

( Rev. Dr. Gabriel Oyediji is the National Secretary, Association of orphanages and homes in Nigeria and the Coordinator, Child Protection Network, Alimosho Chapter)

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