The Constitution of Kenya recognizes the family as a fundamental unit of society and the necessary basis for social order and bestows the responsibility of childcare on the child’s biological family. It is therefore anchored in law that children should, as much as possible, live with and be cared for by their families of birth.
Around the world, an estimated 5.4 million children continue to live in orphanages and other harmful institutions due to poverty, discrimination, and insufficient access to basic services, among other factors. Once separated from their families and communities, children in institutions are deprived of the love, attention and opportunities they need to develop and flourish.
The situation in Kenya fits this global scenario. There are an estimated 45,000 children living in over 845 charitable children’s institutions (CCIs) – privately run residential institutions overseen by the Directorate of Children’s Services (DCS). In addition, there are an estimated 1,000–1,200 children living in 28 government-run institutions, including rehabilitation, remand, reception, and rescue Centre’s. A lack of comprehensive data on the number of institutions means that the true scope and scale of institutionalization in Kenya is largely unknown. Some of the major drivers of institutionalization in Kenya include poverty, disability, displacement and orphanhood, mainly, as a result of HIV/AIDS.
There is overwhelming evidence that children under institutional care suffer severe and sometimes irreparable developmental setbacks as opposed to their counterparts in family and community-based care. The studies show that at least eight out of ten of these children have biological and extended families and, with appropriate support, their families could look after them. On this basis, the Government has taken deliberate steps to transform the childcare system in the country. It continues to support family strengthening initiatives such as cash transfers and other prevention and response programs to ensure that children are not unnecessarily separated from their families.
To fully align with globally accepted standards of care, the Government in collaboration with other likeminded players in the children’s sector adopted a unified and holistic approach towards reforming the childcare system by developing the National Care Reform Strategy for Children in Kenya. The strategy, developed with support of UNICEF and a multi sectoral Care Reform Core Team, under the leadership of the National Council for Children’s Services (NCCS), seeks to guide national steps towards Prevention and Family Strengthening, robust alternative family care, and Tracing, reintegration and transitioning from institutional care to Family and Community Based Care for all children in need of care and protection. It sets out areas of focus for various agencies in the sector for the next ten years and calls for collaborative effort and active coordination to achieve collective impact approach. In addition, various agencies have developed supportive documents to operationalize National strategy.
Care reform is a priority and an obligation that is shared by both state and non-state actors in the children sector, we call upon all the stakeholders to embrace this agenda and play part in implementing the strategy. In Kenya, much efforts have been put in place towards implementation of care reforms. This includes but not limited pilot program in Kisumu county which was scaled up to more demonstration counties (Kilifi, Nyamira, Kiambu, Muranga, Meru, Kirinyaga, Garissa,Turkana, Nairobi, Nakuru, etc). The Situational analysis of children in Statutory and private Children institutions was conducted in six counties to inform scaling up of care reforms. Benchmarking study visits have been undertaken in the following countries; Rwanda, USA, UK to learn the care reform best practices. The Alternative care module within the Child Protection Information management system has been enhanced to capture data on children.
Together we will need to mainstream child protection, alternative care, and family care and community-based care into national social protection systems and programmes to ensure holistic and integrated approaches, continuity and sustainability.
The Ministry is calling upon all partners and stakeholders to forge together in complementing the Government efforts to transform the childcare system from institution-based care to family and community-based care. The successful implementation of this strategy will make it possible for children in Kenya to enjoy their right to grow up in a family environment and receive appropriate care for wholesome growth and development.