In 2013 there were over 80,000 children and young people in care in Colombia, removed from their families because of serious threats to their welfare, including street living, drug use, child labour, sexual abuse and other violence. These figures are on the increase. In the first quarter of 2014, Colombian Social Services received 13,670 reports of child abuse, an increase of more than 50% compared to the same period the previous year. Neglect, abuse and abandonment of children, combined with living conditions of poverty, scarce employment opportunities and daily violence and insecurity, combine to make many children's family life extremely difficult, and the challenge of making families safe for the most marginalised children ever more complex.
Children in residential care homes
The majority of children who have no family to go to, or whose family is not capable of providing them with the care and protection that they need, stay in long term residential care homes. These are often over-crowded with little or no capacity to provide any kind of individualised support. At the age of 18, state support comes to an end for these children, and they are thrust back into society, expected to deal alone with whatever life throws at them.
Risks for children
These young people have often had a disrupted education and have few qualifications, they have little to no experience of work or even an idea of where their interests or skills lie, and they lack practical skills such as cooking a meal, getting around the city on a bus, and registering with a doctor. As a result, they tend to be completely unprepared for the realities of life outside care and are at risk of ending up on the streets, in abusive relationships, or excluded from society in other ways.
What is Children Change Colombia doing?
Over the years, we have learnt that there is a great need not just to support the youngest children, but to work with young people as they become adults and prepare to leave home. This is why Children Change Colombia is working with local partners that support young people as they prepare for independent living, helping them in practical ways, and encouraging them to continue building positive futures for themselves. Our partners are also working closely with Colombian Social Services to encourage them to offer improved services to children in and leaving care, with the aim of helping more children all over the country.
We are also supporting work to reunify children with their families where possible, helping them to rebuild their relationships, and understand how to resolve their problems by accessing support networks. We are in the process of developing prevention work with families in the early stages of breakdown, using the same methodology that has proved successful in reunifying families to try to move both policy and practice away from ineffective institutionalisation of children towards prevention of family breakdown.
Our partner working with young people leaving care is: