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Hope and Homes for Children secures major breakthrough in mission to close all orphanages

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Our former Global Charity Partner has achieved a significant milestone in its campaign across all Commonwealth states.

One year on from the end of our partnership with Hope and Homes for Children – through which we contributed a record GBP2.3m – the charity has helped to achieve an historic commitment from all 54 Commonwealth nations to eliminate orphanages.

Over 80% of children in orphanages have living parents but, because of disability, discrimination and poverty, are confined in institutions that deprive them of a family and expose them to neglect and abuse.

With over one third of the world’s children living in the Commonwealth, the ‘Starlight Declaration’, is a big step forward in Hope and Homes for Children’s mission to liberate millions of children housed in these harmful orphanages across the 54 countries.

The declaration was agreed during a recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting chaired by Rwanda.

The Starlight Declaration

“We’ve been working behind the scenes for the past four years to achieve this commitment from the Commonwealth, with the support of the Government of Rwanda,” says Innocent Habimfura, Hope and Homes for Children’s East & Southern Africa representative.

“Broadly, the Commonwealth nations have committed to childcare reform and protection by implementing the UN Resolution on Children Without Parental Care. They recognise the importance of providing alternative care options, including family and community-based care,” he says.

The 54 Heads of State have also committed to progressively replace institutionalisation, provide adequate training and support for caregivers, and robust screening mechanisms within the childcare system. Importantly, the Declaration includes children with disabilities who are often overlooked in reform processes.

Read more about the full Declaration here.

A monumental milestone

Rwanda is close to becoming Africa’s first orphanage-free nation. It also now formally chairs the Commonwealth for the next two years so has additional influence to set priorities. This makes the agreement a significant milestone for Hope and Homes for Children.

“Over the past 30 years we’ve worked with governments to demonstrate that it’s absolutely possible to transition to care systems that keep families together, reunite families and when needed build new families,” says Hope and Homes for Children’s CEO, Mark Waddington CBE.

The meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government was twice postponed during Covid but Hope and Homes for Children’s team in Rwanda continued to build dialogue with key ministries there.

Highlighting the potential for Rwanda to showcase its own success in this field was crucial in ensuring that a Declaration was tabled at the meeting.

“Everyone at A&O who has been involved in this process with us knows how monumental it is to get this over the line,” Mark says.

“Honestly, there were moments when we didn’t think it would happen, but we’re absolutely thrilled with this outcome. We don’t get many opportunities to tilt the axis of the planet in favour of children, but that’s just what’s happened.”

An update on India and Nepal

A key aim of A&O’s partnership with Hope and Homes for Children was to raise GBP500,000 to tackle the root causes of orphanage confinement in India and Nepal. Children here are at high risk of separation from families because of extreme poverty, child labour and trafficking. Many orphanages exist solely to exploit children and elicit donations from tourists.

Both India and Nepal were badly affected by the Covid pandemic, with India recording the third highest death toll at nearly 530,000 to date. This is behind only the USA and Brazil. The impact of the pandemic plummeted many already struggling families further into poverty, increasing the risk of children being trafficked and forced into child labour.

“Prolonged periods of lockdown meant many of our activities within communities were restricted,” says Tessa Boudrie, Regional Director Asia at Hope and Homes for Children.

“But we’ve become more innovative in our approach as a result, making full use of technology to provide remote support and counselling, and to continue linking thousands of families to government support services.”

In addition to responding to these urgent needs and supporting the transition of hundreds of children into family-based care, Hope and Homes for Children has continued to work alongside local partners CINI and Forget Me Not on its broader programme of systemic change in India and Nepal respectively. 

“In India, we’re working alongside UNICEF India (who we’re knowledge partners to), with our partner organisation in twelve states to develop care reform plans,” Tessa says. “Over the past year, we’ve supported ten districts in Odisha to develop and start implementing district-level care reform strategies. We’ve also started the same process with Karnataka State and plan to work with other States across India to develop care reform strategies. To date we’ve provided support to over 1,000 government officials.

“We’re seeing success with individual childcare institutions. For example, transforming the safeguarding and reintegration practices of one institution to reduce the average length of time children spend in it from over 20 months in 2017 to less than 6 months today – and this number continues to go down. These children are safely reintegrated back into their families or supported into independent living,” Tessa says.

In Nepal the much-awaited Children’s Regulations were passed this year. They provide an implementation framework for the Children’s Act of 2018 and greater clarity on the roles of local government in delivering child protection services.

For example, across eight municipalities in the Kathmandu Valley and Chitwan district, Child Rights Committees are being established and Child Welfare Officers appointed. Both are statutory requirements of the Children’s Act.

Alongside this, Hope and Homes for Children has established a partnership with the National Child Protection Alliance to undertake targeted advocacy at a federal level in Nepal. The partnership will culminate in a policy brief for parliamentarians and ministers to advocate for a strategic, long-term approach to child care reform.

“We’re working on a series of ‘sensitisation workshops’ with government representatives,” Tessa says, “to allow young people who’ve left the care system to share their experiences and give a clearer insight into the harms of institutionalisation.

“The sessions are very effective in educating officials, thereby influencing the allocation of funding and scale-up of schemes to support vulnerable children and families.”

A moment to celebrate

“We’ve achieved a huge amount together with A&O during our partnership. I’m incredibly proud of that," says Mark.

“Without the support of A&O, we wouldn’t be celebrating this incredible success with Commonwealth governments, nor many of our other achievements.

“Of course, now the hard work continues as we strive to ensure that Commonwealth countries action the agreement. In the meantime a huge thank you for the role you’ve played in getting us here. It’s truly a moment to celebrate.”