A report prepared by Shoba Koshy, former chairperson of the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, on deinstitutionalisation and providing alternative care to children, has called for reinforcing the message that placing a child in an institution is the last resort.
The report, based on a two-day national workshop organised by the Women and Child Development Department in collaboration with UNICEF, stressed a paradigm shift in efforts to deinstitutionalise child care.
A report on the workshop, in which four other States Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Uttar Pradesh participated, called for the approach change from deinstitutionalisation to providing alternative care in a family environment as stipulated in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act (JJ Act) and Rules.
It highlighted capacity building at all levels, starting with child welfare committees (CWCs), and effective prevention strategies to drive home the message.
It came to light during the workshop that some of the bigger States had fewer children in child care institutions (CCIs) than smaller States such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu. There was need to probe the reasons for this dichotomy, the report said.
It also came to note that there were more children in institutions managed by non-governmental organisations than those under the government. Since all CCIs were required to be registered under the JJ Act and children were placed in them through the CWCs, the reasons for this anomaly needed to be addressed, it said.
On the matter of regular and effective follow-up mechanism and support services for a child and the family into which s/he is rehabilitated, it was observed that much remained to be done to hand-hold children negotiating everyday life.
It was necessary to examine whether the current systems for follow-up were adequate. Though the framework for follow-up after deinstitutionalisation was specified, there was a shortage of resources to undertake it effectively, resulting in return of some children to the homes.
While sending back children to their homes during COVID-19 helped to substantially bring down the number of children in institutions, there was need to undertand why many of them were retained in institutions in the first place when they could have been rehabilitated in the home environment, the report said. Factors that led to children who were brought back being institutionalised again also had to be understood, the report said.
The workshop recognised the challenges in promoting the concept of foster care and said more had to be done to successfully adapt it to the Indian context.
A key aspect of the challenge of deinstitutionalisation was to address the factors that brought children to an institution. Lack of resources had become an even bigger factor during COVID-19, the report said, dwelling on how resources used to support CCIs could be diverted to support new approaches to alternative care of children.
Role of technological interventions in improving the quality of services provided to children in need of care and protection was also underlined in the report.