FEATURED: How SOS Children’s Villages Rwanda has built foster families’ capacity in quality alternative care and protection of children

Despite having five children and being in the second Ubudehe social category, Emerance Mukandahinyuka, a mother from Kayonza district, Mukarange sector, is currently fostering a child that she rescued from the street who was about 8 years old at the time.

It has been five years taking care of the child and Mukandahinyuka says she gained skills from SOS Children’s Villages Rwanda on how to provide appropriate care to her foster child which she didn’t have in the first years of fostering. SOS Children’s Villages Rwanda is a non-governmental organization working globally to meet the needs and protect the interests and rights of children.

The training that Mukandahinyuka received is part of a three-year project ( 2017-2019) dubbed  Community Action For Quality Alternative Care and Protection. It is operating in Rwanda in Kayonza district as a pilot project which helps  children without parental care to join foster care or kinship care families. “I rescued the child and wholeheartedly accepted to foster her despite my low financial capacity since I was also raised by my non-biological mother at 2 years old,” she said.

She says that she has realized that in the previous years there are some mistakes she made while raising the child due to a lack of some skills in alternative care and child protection. “For instance when the child made a mistake I would insult her that she does so because of coming from the street which would hurt her. But through training, I have learnt that I have to treat her like my children. I learnt how to take care of such a child when their behavior changes. We also got trained on their rights such as birth registration and job creation, among others,” she narrated.

Mukandahinyuka said that she has already registered the child in her birth registration book and in Ubudehe social category and she is currently in P6 primary school. “I registered her and now she can also inherit from us as our other children. Besides the capacity building and how to give care and respect the rights of fostered children, SOS Children’s Villages Rwanda is also paying school fees for her. “We were also given goats so that we continue to generate income even after the project closes,” she said.

The foster mother said that the current child is the second one she has fostered. The first child has grown both in age and financial capacity and is now supporting her with some family expenses. “I fostered the other child for over ten years, since 2006. He now has a car and house and even supports my child to pay tuition fees at university,” she said. Mukandahinyuka urges families with financial capacity to foster such children lacking parental care.

Julienne Musengimana, another mother from Nyamirama sector, Rurambi cell, is also fostering  two of her sister’s children. “My sister gave birth to three children from different men. Only one child is being kept at his father while I am keeping the two since their mother is also suffering from mental disorders. Their fathers have rejected them. The girl is in S3 secondary school and the boy is in P6. They live the same way we live. SOS Children’s Villages Rwanda  pays their school fees. I have three children of my own besides the others I am fostering. However, my financial capacity is not enough to satisfy all that they need,” she said.

Why the training

According to John Kagaju, the Coordinator of Community Action for Quality Alternative Care and Protection, training foster families on improving care was founded on research findings that despite being fostered, children face issues of lacking access to some rights such as education, health insurance, and birth registration.

The programme, from 2017 to 2019, is helping 50 children who lost parental care and joined 38 foster care or kinship care families in Nyamirama, Ruramira and Mukarange sectors of Kayonza district. It trains those families on how to care for them and allow them to access their rights. “For instance, analysis showed that of those 50 children, 41 had reached school going age but only 21 children had gone to school. The project helped them to rejoin,” Kagaju said.

Each family received Rwf174, 000 to start a small income-generating activity that will help improve the children’s care and satisfy their needs such as education when the project ends. “They can do farming, rear domestic animals and sell their agricultural products. We also do advocacy so that the government increases its commitment and resources to implement alternative care guidelines, help children join families, go back to school and get birth registration,” he said.

In terms of capacity building, 20 staff of SOS Children’s Villages Rwanda  were trained on alternative care guidelines, policy and budget analysis, and 10 local partners were trained on alternative care and child protection.