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A Family-Centered Approach to Caring for Orphans and Vulnerable Children

World AIDS Day 2009
Commemorate World AIDS Day
with ChildFund on Dec. 1

As the battle against AIDS in Africa continues to be waged, ChildFund International is making progress with its family-centered approach model, Weaving the Safety Net.


Launched in March 2005, as part of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the ChildFund program has provided assistance to more than 48,500 orphans and other vulnerable children and adolescents in the Thika and Kiambu districts of Kenya’s Central Province.

“The number of children affected by HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is escalating rapidly,” says Daniel Kinoti, project manager for Weaving the Safety Net. He cites a sobering USAID study that 15.4 percent of all Kenyan children under age 15 will have lost one or both parents by 2010.

The loss of parents effectively removes the primary social structure protecting children and adolescents, resulting in increased vulnerability to key threats. Those not yet orphaned by the epidemic see their quality of life rapidly erode as they struggle to survive in a community reeling from the impact of HIV/AIDS.

The threats that children and adolescents confront include a lack of social and emotional support for healthy psychological and social development, lost educational opportunities, increasing hunger and malnutrition and increased susceptibility to abuse and exploitation, including sexual violence.

Many orphans and other vulnerable children (OVC) have been forced out of school to look after sick caregivers or younger siblings, for domestic work or to find food or earn money for the family. Many caregivers cannot afford school fees for secondary school or the subsidiary costs (scholastic materials, uniforms, etc.) that are attendant with free primary education provided by the Kenyan government.

For those children still in school, teachers cited withdrawal, crying and other displays of anger and frustration, as well as poor concentration leading to low academic performance.

A key focus of the Weaving the Safety Net program is to stem the gap in psychosocial programming for children while supporting structures that respond to individuals’ educational, health and economic needs.

“Through sustainable, high-quality services, we are strengthening the capacity of families to cope with their problems and mobilizing and strengthening community-based responses,” Kinoti says. “This program assists families and communities to care for and support OVC, paying particular heed to their psychosocial needs, and also afford vulnerable individuals the opportunity to grow their own skills, through educational and vocational opportunities, to minimize community/family dependency and encourage self-sufficiency.”

To that end, ChildFund works through community- and faith-based organizations.

“By working with communities, ChildFund ensures that families and individuals are able to access the resources they need for positive and productive futures,” Kinoti says.

He points out that the partnership approach requires significant investment in relationship and capacity building, but has had important and potentially long-lasting results for the communities served. At its mid-term evaluation of the project last year, ChildFund had trained more than 6,500 OVC caregivers to support children. Tremendous growth was also noted in both districts in the proportion of OVC seeking medical care when sick or injured.

In Kiambu, those children receiving medical care climbed from 60.6 percent, to 91.7 percent; in Thika, those receiving care went from 63 percent, to 86.2 percent.

Stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS in the community has declined. All respondents sampled from both Kiambu and Thika districts confirmed their willingness to visit neighbors living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, and provide them with a meal.

As the PEPFAR initiative concludes, ChildFund is now working to ensure sustainability mechanisms are in place by June 2010.

OVC served by Weaving the Safety Net are being transitioned to extended families and community- and faith-based organizations. In turn, those families are receiving vocational training and inclusion in solidarity group lending programs, implemented through ChildFund partnerships with K-Rep and Village Savings and Loans Associations, to help ensure their household financial stability.

Support is also coming from the government of Kenya, which has a national plan of action to strengthen the capacity of families to protect and care for OVC.

ChildFund continues to strengthen the capacities of Community Own Resource Persons (CORPs) to help with ongoing monitoring and follow-up of children enrolled in the Weaving the Safety Net program. These trained community volunteers will help ensure that support and services continue for orphans and vulnerable children.

At the request of the Coalition on Children Affected by AIDS, Kinoti and Rose Kerubo, who provides day-to-day coordination for Weaving the Safety Net, have written a paper with two case studies on family-centered approaches to care and support for OVC.

The paper will be presented at the International AIDS Conference next July in Vienna.