Kenya is home to approximately 2.4 million orphaned children – most of whom live within family and community environments. In addition to orphanhood, poverty, harmful cultural practices, family breakdown, abandonment, natural disasters, ethnic and political conflict and poor care arrangements are other factors that make more children vulnerable.
In Kenya, communities have traditionally responded to children without adequate parental care by placing them informally with extended family or community members. With increasing socio-economic pressures and weakening family structures, this informal kinship care mechanism is under threat leading to separation of children from their families.
On the other hand, placement of children in charitable children institutions is the predominant and the default form of formal alternative care. This is despite the decades of research that demonstrate that institutional care is detrimental to a child’s emotional, physical and psychosocial, wellbeing, and exposes children to higher risks of abuse, neglect and exploitation. Residential care of small group homes that reflect family care should be a last option for special cases. It is evident that better, and recommended family and community based care approaches such as kinship care, foster care, guardianship and adoption are only practiced to a limited extent.
Hence, to ensure our children are in safe and caring environments and to secure their future there is a need to significantly promote the practice of family and community-based care through the Guidelines for the Alternative Family Care of Children in Kenya adopted in 2015.
Although the Guidelines are a critical institutional framework, collaborative and coordinated approach to enhance advocacy, skills and knowledge for their proper implementation has been lacking. Additionally, while several organizations are currently working to support children grow up in families and communities, the response has been fragmented and uncoordinated, leaving thousands of vulnerable children outside of the necessary response.