Reintegrating children in communities in Rwanda

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Children separated from their families can be at a higher risk of dangerous situations and adverse life outcomes; but reintegrating children who return to their communities or families of origin also needs to be approached carefully in order for it to be successful in the long term. Uyisenga ni Imanzi, the Family for Every Child member organisation in Rwanda, has developed a comprehensive model for enabling this to happen. The model incorporates elements of the Rwandan culture to help make it easier to understand, absorb, and learn from. In two years of the project, 530 children have been supported to re-join their communities of origin.

What is it?

Uyisenga ni Imanzi, a Family for Every Child member organisation in Rwanda, have developed a model for reintegrating separated children back into their families and communities. It is a step-by-step, holistic approach that takes into account cultural- and context-specific needs of the child and family; and happens in partnership with other civil society organisations and government agencies.

Why is it important?

The separation of children from their families and communities of origin, often without any adult care, can put them in vulnerable situations where they are susceptible to dangers such as child abuse, exploitation and trafficking. However, reintegration needs to happen in a way that ensures it is effective in the long term. Separated children often have no access to basic needs such as education, food and shelter; and have a higher probability of experiencing adverse outcomes such as drug abuse, stealing and violence.

How does it work?

The reintegration model involves a range of stakeholders from different institutions (government and civil society) and from different locations (such as centres where children are placed, as well as people in their community of origin). Programs supporting both parents and children have been developed, including therapeutic, legal, educational and economic support elements. Additionally, referral mechanisms have been put in place based on case documentation and the input of a range of different expertise.

Involving parents in the process has been a particular success. This created a sense of ownership and sustainability of the outcomes of the activities. By strengthening the capacity of children, parents and whole families to welcome the separated children back into their community, the rate of success was seen to increase. Using community mechanisms was another tool which facilitated the sustainability of the project outcomes.

In two years of the project, 530 children have been reintegrated back to their families and communities of origin; and they returned back to education. All of the children received psychotherapeutic support with their parents.

The project is based on best practice reintegration guidelines, with a strong therapeutic element grounded in peer support and recovery. Local proverbs are used as part of the therapeutic process, grounding it in the Rwandan context and making the sessions easier to understand and absorb for the people who attend.

The sessions include:

  • Family tracing
  • Knowing and naming the problem – both individually, and in groups, for solidarity
  • Parents’ confrontation sessions where parents are encouraged to take responsibility for the child’s situation
  • Healing sessions for parents, where they are supported to name the problem and make a plan for how to overcome it
  • Monitoring, evaluation and learning
  • Economic empowerment of families
  • Strengthening resilience and building ambitions for the children through a ‘design life’ project, which builds children’s ambition and vision, confidence, understanding of competition as a natural part of life and the importance of taking risks, as well as their patience and determination
  • Rebuilding relationships and attachments
  • Integrating new children belonging groups such as a football club or scout group, where they are welcomed and given a role within the group

The model is readily applicable to other contexts as it adapts to the specific contextual needs of children and families. As such, Uyisenga ni Imanzi has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the country’s National Rehabilitation Service, and are scaling up the model to different government and non-government institutions. They are now planning to publish the model to support other organisations who want to develop reunification and reintegration projects for themselves.

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