REINTEGRATION

Reintegration is the process of a separated child making what is anticipated to be a permanent transition back to his or her immediate or extended family and community, in order to receive protection and care and to find a sense of belonging and purpose in all spheres of life. (BCN et al., 2013)

In 2014, Aziza's Place started the reintegration of all its children back into their families and communities. Today, we share our gained expertise with other organizations.

Aziza's Place

Starting in 2014, Aziza's Place was among the first NGO’s in Cambodia to implement a long-term reintegration plan, carefully easing the children back into their families and communities and monitoring the progress over a period of two years. For families that had relied on AP or other NGOs to look after all of their children’s material and even emotional needs, the early stages of re-integrating the children with their families were very challenging.

Since 2016, all of the children under AP’s care who were once residents have either been reintegrated with their families or supported to transition out of care into community based settings. The children still benefit from all of AP’s services, except that they return to their families in the evening. AP remains heavily involved in the monitoring phase of reintegration and provides support as needed, according to individually tailored care plans.

Why?

Because current research shows that it is always better, if possible, for a child to grow up at home than in an institution. It may seem difficult from the outside looking in, and may present its own complications, but it provides a child with that most basic human experience; developing a real relationship with family. Taking a child into an institution should always be the last resort. Our services and support here at AP are unchanged, but now the children have the chance to live as normal a life as possible outside our gates.

How?

Working with an expert in the field. We began the slow process (in 2015) of moving our resident children back home. Beginning with just a single visit a week, and slowly building to complete shift, we attended closely to the needs of family and child and never tried to push a deadline. We are proud to say that all our children now reside at home, or in a family setting.

What now?

We feel strongly that reintegration was the right choice, in accordance with the law, the research, and our own experience here at AP. So, we want to help other residential organizations do the same thing. Our team is now reaching out and working with NGOs who want to reintegrate their children. We hope that in the future we will see a situation where no child lives in an institution who does not absolutely have to.

We hope other organizations in Cambodia and other countries will be interested to follow a similar path, and if our insights and experience can be of benefit, it will be our pleasure to share it.

If you have any questions regarding the Reintegration Program or would like to find out more, please do not hesitate to contact us.

LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR APPROACH

In case you would like to learn more about reintegration in general and more specifically about our approach, we have added more information for you. You can easily navigate via the menu below.

Why is reintegration important?

In developed countries, there are financial and social welfare systems in place for families who need support. In Cambodia, there are few such welfare systems. Instead, there is a complex network of NGOs who work to fill the gaps in government services. Unfortunately, there is also a common misunderstanding amongst impoverished communities that children are better off residing at an NGO facility than to stay with their own families, who have difficulty providing for them. In fact, with basic services and support, the majority of families can stay together whilst their children are receiving an education.

This is the essence of our Reintegration Program; to provide community-based care, not residential care.

The aims of the Reintegration Program are all in line with Cambodian law and the charter of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which states that residential centers should be the last and temporary resort after all options have been exhausted or deemed unsuitable.

Research shows that children who grow-up in institutions or residential centers find it more difficult to integrate into wider society during adulthood. By isolating children from the benefits of their family and community networks, organizations insulate them from healthy social networks and leave them more vulnerable to abuse when they leave institutions.

“Despite their good intentions, supporters of orphanages such as tourists and volunteers, actually end up contributing to the breaking up of families and removing children from their own family environment,” - Iman Morooka (Unicef Cambodia)

How did our reintegration process work?

PHASE 1: THE REINTEGRATION

It was important to take our time on this program and not set artificial deadlines, or attempt to reintegrate the children too quickly. Some of the children had lived at Aziza's Place for up to 7 years so moving home represented significant change in environment. Since all of the children are still in their tender development years, we knew changes had to be made slowly. In addition, we had to work with the children's families to help them understand that they could remain as a family unit and their children could receive an education at the same time: they didn't have to choose one from the other. We also wanted the families to understand that they must take more active roles in their children’s lives and future, and that Aziza's Place will provide support wherever necessary.

Once we’d worked together with the families to establish conditions for reintegration, including finding a suitable place to live and a stable job, the children began visiting their families during the day on Sundays. After this, they began sleeping-over at the weekends. Some months later, when the children and families felt ready, the children started to go home 2 or 3 nights a week. The final phase was for the children to begin staying at home every night. Everything was done on a case-by-case basis, so not all the children followed these steps at the same time.

In addition, we had students who graduated from high school and moved on to further education or full-time jobs. Not all of these students moved back with their families as they were older and would have a smaller chance of success in family reintegration. Although, we do have some older students at university who have been reintegrated with their families as they chose to.

PHASE 2: MONITORING AND SUPPORT

Instead of supporting the children as individuals, Aziza's Place is now supporting the families as a unit. This phase started in 2015 and still ongoing. We provide social work assistance and financial support to ensure the families are in a safe and stable environment in which their children have an integral place. Over time, we scale-back our financial assistance so that the families become completely independent. As with all the other changes, this one must be made slowly to ensure constant stability for the families.

In addition, we also had students who graduated from high school and moved on to further education or full-time jobs. Not all of these students moved back with their families as they were older and would have a smaller chance of success in family reintegration. Although, we do have some older students at university who have been reintegrated with their families as they chose to. For those students who started living independently, AP helps them with rent, a modest monthly allowance and for all high school graduates, they must work at least a part-time job for financial reasons but mostly to start embedding themselves into their community networks. This also requires close monitoring from our social workers. The principles of reintegration for the older students were the same whether they live independently or with their own families.

Aziza’s Place after reintegration

Ever since AP transformed into a learning and development center, our new intake of children have come to benefit from Aziza's Place's programs and services solely as a day center. Going through the entire process of reintegrating AP's children back into their families, with the support of ACCI - an international organisation specialized in this domain, our social workers have developed a strong and valuable skillset.

Through the reintegration program, Aziza's Place's social workers are currently supporting and guiding a residential center in Phnom Penh through the complex process of reintegrating the children and becoming a daycare center. Slowly, we are building up more experience and developing best practices for the region. We now look forward to take on more projects.

Any organisation interested in finding out more and/or interested in receiving our support, please contact us.

Is there further reading available?

There is a lot of information around on reintegration, deinstitutionalisation and alternative care. A leading organisation on this topic is Lumos, founded by JK Rowling: https://wearelumos.org/
Our partners, the Global Fund for Children (GFC) wrote a blog post when we were halfway through the program (Oct 2015) which you can read here.
More recently (Aug 2017), The Guardian published a very informative article on the situation in Cambodia, with interviews with ACCI - an organisation through which we are currently supporting a residential care center in Phnom Penh in their reintegration process. You can read it here.For further reading, "Institutional Care: The Last Resort" by Save The Children is a good brief report you can read here.

There is also the "Guidelines to the Alternative Care of Children" by the UN which you can read here.

If you have any questions regarding the Reintegration Program or would like to find out more, please do not hesitate to contact us.

We hope other organizations in Cambodia and other countries will be interested to follow a similar path, and if our insights and experience can be of benefit, it will be our pleasure to share it.