Shailesh Kumar Singh

Zonal Director East SOS Children's Villages in India
photo: © 2018 Stefan Lechner Photography

Change is the only constant. Rolling out of a kinship programme

An amendment to the Juvenile Justice Act  and a change in the adoption guidelines left less scope to increase the number of children in our SOS Children's Villages (CV). In a planning meeting held in 2016, the national management team decided to initiate a new programme to reach out to more children. Then, in a national management team of SOS India meeting at the beginning of March 2017, it was decided to start our Kinship Programme in selected locations on a pilot basis. We were told at this meeting that there were limited funds available for the programme: so no additional manpower would be given to the village where it was to be rolled out. A decision was taken to formulate the guidelines for the programme and responsibility was given to the ICC Department (Integrated Child Care Department which supports the projects in implementing programmes) and zonal directors to prepare and circulate the guidelines to CVs by the end of April 2017.

When you have to fulfil new requirements
After reaching the hotel room, I started reflecting on how to go about the programme. I knew that when it comes to implementation, a new programme is never an easy thing. I had a memory of starting an outreach programme in 2003, where I had initially faced many problems because the co-workers had no experience in working with the local community. The community mobilisation for the programme was the challenge. However, after an initial hiccup, this programme achieved success. 

While reflecting on this issue, something came to mind. When I was village director, on one occasion in an annual co-worker seminar, the then Deputy Secretary General of SOS International, Asia, told me that "Change is the only constant" and that a vibrant organisation like SOS needs to be prepared to adopt and accept change with changing times and situations.

Half an hour more
Coming back from the national office, when I shared this information with the various village directors their responses were not very encouraging, as quite a few new things had already been introduced in the last few years and their work had increased tremendously. On top of that, they were not sure how to do it. Receiving such poor responses from their side, I was a little worried about how to go about this new programme. While thinking about different options, something came to mind that the president of SOS India often talked about when I was village director: an SOS concept. One day I asked him what the SOS concept is: he said it was very simple, "half an hour more". I asked him what he meant by half an hour more, and he said, "Can we work half an hour more for children?" This gave me a lot of strength. I started talking with village directors about this phrase and asked them if they could stretch themselves to reach out to more needy children. After a few rounds of discussion with them, they agreed to find out if such children lived within a 100-km radius of their location. Both simple persuasion and sharing information removed their doubts. When SOS Children's Villages started a survey of parentless children who could be placed under kinship care, the zonal office became involved by liaising with the government to make a partnership for selecting the children, getting the necessary approval to place them under kinship care, and getting a grant for this programme in the future.

By the end of September 2017, beneficiaries and caregivers had been identified and the necessary approval was obtained from the government. However, some of the caregivers were not satisfied with our verbal commitment. A visit to the different SOS Children's Villages was organised for them where they got the opportunity to see our family homes and to interact with SOS mothers and co-workers, which helped them to understand our care model as well as our child safeguarding policy. Afterwards, a memorandum of understanding was signed, clearly defining the role of caregivers and SOS Children's Villages in the children's development.

First financial support for the kinship programme
The programme was inaugurated on October 2, 2017, on the occasion of the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, father of the nation, whose vision was "to put the last first". Children and caregivers were invited to the different SOS Children's Villages where they met the SOS mothers and did a round of the facilities available in the Village. People representatives, the social welfare official, people from the local administration and the media organised a small programme for this occasion, which was well attended. All the distinguished guests present on this occasion appreciated the work of SOS Children's Villages. Announcing the opening of the kinship programme, the community leader said what a very good initiative by SOS Children's Villages this is, as the parentless children will remain in their own community under the care of their relatives. After the announcement of the programme, the village director provided the caregivers with the first cheque for financial support. This was intended to take care of education and the health and nutrition of the children, as well as expenses for pocket money, birthday celebrations and a festival allowance.

Training and mentors of the children's community
To protect the children from any kind of abuse, training on child rights was organised for them. Caregivers were given training on common-sense parenting, child rights, child safeguarding, and record keeping. Co-worker education prepared a child development plan for each child in consultation with the child and caregivers. But the problems came with implementing the child development plan, as co-workers could not be present all the time to support the family and child as is the case in SOS Children's Villages. It was therefore decided to identify a mentor from the same community for the caregivers and child in times of need for each family providing support. In the following two months, a mentor was identified for each family, mostly schoolteachers from the community. Their role and responsibilities were made clear to them. They were also provided with training on child rights and child safeguarding. This reduced the workload for co-workers.

To reduce the load for co-workers further, regular trainings/meetings for caregivers were organised in SOS Children's Villages along with meetings and refresher trainings for SOS mothers.

Jointly define indicators and measure success
Success indicators have been produced by consulting all the stakeholders, and the programme is running well despite the initial hesitation and resistance. We have reached out to many children to provide them with a meaningful life without removing them from their community and their roots. Now they are living in security under the care of their relatives. All of them attend school regularly. Some of them have performed well in their studies and achieved a good rank in class. They have also been encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities. Some of them have won prizes in games, singing and dance competitions organised by their schools.

This has been possible with clear guidance from their seniors and regular sharing of information and persuasion at Village level.

The support of the government and community is very encouraging as they found our system very effective and caring. We have now applied to three state governments for recognition of our kinship care model. Once we get the recognition, we will apply for government funding to make this programme self-sustainable.

Shailesh Kumar Singh,

zonal director east, SOS Children’s Villages of India, zonal office east, India.

Shailesh joined SOS Children’s Villages as a youth leader in 1993. During his 25 years working for SOS, he has been posted to six different programme locations, including the SOS Children’s Village Greenfields, where he served as a village director. In his current position, he supports and guides seven projects including SOS Children’s Villages, youth house and family strengthening programmes.

He was brought up in a typical joint Hindu family and was married at a young age to an understanding and empowered woman. She is a source of strength to him and his children. During his leisure, he spends time with his family and reads books. He lives with his family in Kolkata, a metropolitan city with 14.5 million people. Kolkata is called the city of joy and has a rich history. It was the capital of India until 2011. There are many places of touristic interest.

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