Re-evaluating best interests

91363aff-34f1-49f2-a3d6-aa45811fb681

The month has gone by quickly. During the last two weeks, Chris and I have been interviewing social workers at SBT’s various shelter homes, as well as boys from the DMRC shelter home about their life stories and experiences. All of these interviews, along with the ones we did earlier in the month, help to shape our argument for re-evaluating India’s Juvenile Justice Act, particularly the principle that restoration of the child to the family is always in the best interest of the child.

When a child is received at a contact point, a file is opened and social workers at SBT collect information about the child, such as their family and well-being. The case is then passed onto the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), who decides whether the child should be sent back to their families, their home state or taken into SBT’s shelter homes. From all our interviews, we discovered that quite often the CWC is sent back to their families under the belief that the family is always the best for the child. But when these children come from broken, dysfunctional families that render the child susceptible to forms of physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse, can we still say that returning to the family is the best? It seems that it is not so much about family in the literal sense, but the normative conditions of a family – a healthy, supportive environment conducive to the child’s growth and personal development – which should be emphasised when looking at the principle of restoration of the child to their family. It is about being sensitized to these conditions and contexts during evaluation.

Throughout this project, I realised how important it is to step back and reflect what best interest of the child is. Is it listening to the child’s wishes because it is their own life, and they know what it is they want, and what they think is best for their mental, emotional and physical well-being? Do we as adults decide because we are older, experienced more, and therefore know better what is best for the child? How does one negotiate between these two? Aforementioned, it is a matter of being sensitive to these nuances and complexities as we move forward.

Chris and I will continue working on this advocacy report back in Edinburgh. We will continue polishing our legal argument, and emphasise this urgency of change by highlighting the range of vulnerabilities which street children are susceptible to. Eventually, we, SBT and lawyers will present this report to the government, in hope that change can happen and they can be more sensitized to the issues we raise in our report so that the best, and most appropriate form of support and care is given to street children.

To conclude, thank you to everyone at SBT who has supported us in writing this report, particularly Parvati, Devika and Adam who helped to organize interviews for us, and also to all our interviewees who took the time to share their thoughts, experiences and life stories.

Words by Loritta

 

The world of childhood

P4041228

 

“For children with no home, life is a fast train to nowhere, Salaam Balaak Trust works to restore them to the world of childhood”

                                                                                                                                                                                               ~ ~ Salaam Balaak Trust.

In an academic journal article entitled “Street Children in India: A Non-Government Organization (NGO)-Based Intervention Model” published in 2009, Dr Amit Sen closed by dedicating his article “to the millions of street children and their indomitable spirit and resilience.” For those of you who haven’t read the hundreds of articles required for doctoral studies, let me tell you this: It is highly unusual to see such a dedication from a senior clinician in an academic paper.

To me, Amit’s words and their appearance in such a context sum up SBT entirely.

SBT’s vision statement is as follows:

“For children with no home, life is a fast train to nowhere, Salaam Balaak Trust works to restore them to, the World of childhood, take for a lonely dead end, to bonding, learning and the joy of a professional life.

Salaam Balaak Trust works towards a creation of a just and equitable society, which respects the rights of the child to education, health & nutrition, family environment, recreation & constructive participation.”

SBT’s mental health program nestles within the organisation’s values and vision.  As outlined in Amit’s paper, the program maintains a psychological model of trauma and mental health with an emphasis on prevention and early intervention alongside cultivating a sense of hopefulness. So what does this mean in ‘real-world’ terms? I can’t say for sure having only spent two weeks here, but to me the emphasis on meeting the needs of young people and creating a resilient community is evident in the warmth, chattiness, confidence and kindness of the kids and adolescents in SBT’s care. I’ve observed teenager’s patience with younger children, gentle teasing among children, and young people supporting each other with school work. There is a sense of caring and connectedness throughout the whole organisation, including graduates, staff and volunteers.

Of course, things aren’t perfect – how could there be with so many young people to care for and few adults. These are structural limitations that won’t change. Also, CPD opportunities for staff are expensive and the training on offer in India is not always of a high quality. This is where I’m hoping I can help. With my research and clinical contacts in Edinburgh, I hope to help SBT staff build their knowledge and confidence around the following themes:

  • Preventing and managing bullying in residential homes
  • Diversifying therapeutic models and techniques
  • Thinking about trauma and how to help support children who have experienced complex trauma

I’ll be working closely with Shikha over the next couple of weeks towards these aims and will keep you posted on the project as it develops. For those who are interested, I highly recommend reading Amit’s original article:

Sen, A. (2009). Street children in India: a non-government organization (NGO)-based intervention model. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics30(6), 552-559.

I hope you are finding our work here in India interesting to read about. If you are, please consider supporting the project by following us on social media or giving a small donation. There is a link to donate in the ‘support us’ tab.

~Alice.

 

World is suddener than we fancy it

“World is suddener than we fancy it.”

~Louis MacNeice, Snow.

 

WhatsApp Image 2018-04-01 at 13.53.58
Our balcony on the evening we arrived

I can hardly believe we are already half way through our month in Delhi. Time has passed by quickly and it feels too soon to be at the halfway point! But let’s not be hasty, we still have two more weeks and as I reflect I realize we’ve achieved a lot in the past fortnight:

  • Loritta and Chris are well underway with their qualitative research project examining outcomes for young people who stay with SBT compared to those who return home to their families. So far they have interviewed key stakeholders including legal experts, SBT staff, parents, and of course the young people themselves.
  • Meanwhile, Rachel and Yogita* have been busying themselves with the shopping delights of Delhi. Yes really, this pair are the proud owners of new underpants for girls and a laptop. Why I hear you ask? Rachel and Yogita have put an incredible amount of energy and attention towards planning a workshop on growing up and sexuality for young women. From shopping, to workshop planning, movie making and location scouting – it seems there’s not much these dedicated people won’t do for the success of this project!
  • As for me? Yesterday I met with Shikha, the mental health coordinator at SBT. Believe me when I say that I was genuinely astounded by the thoughtfulness that has gone in to designing a mental health program that works. It deserves a blog post of it’s own, so watch this space.

You may be wondering about the plans we have for our last two weeks in Delhi…

Hopefully by now you’re suitable impressed by the hard work and effort we’ve put in and agree we can take the time off to sun ourselves on a beach in Goa…

Just kidding!

We’re absolutely engrossed in our various projects so the beach will have to wait. Chris and Loritta still have lots of work to do in order to produce a report that can be used by SBT to help advocate for the rights of the children at a national level. Rachel and Yogita are now well stocked up on pants but still have to buy sanitary pads to go with the new underwear, they’re also expanding the workshop to help educate boys and young men about issues such as consent, as well as planning public engagement events about the workshops with the dual goal of fundraising … no big deal for those two, especially with an impressive team of SBT young people and staff alongside them. Meanwhile, I will have my hands full helping to build the resources of the mental health team.

We hope you enjoy hearing about our projects, please comment and follow us on social media to get involved in the conversation. If it wasn’t for our connections and support networks back home, we wouldn’t have been able to make the most of this opportunity as we have been, so thank-you for your energy and interest. Special thanks to Javita whose warmth and knowledge has been invaluable.

~Alice

*Name changed for confidentiality reasons

 

Women Talk

P4061318
Team thinking

Today Adam, Rachel and I (Alice) had a meeting with three young women who are currently in, or had recently graduated from the care of Salaam Balaak Trust’s (SBT) shelter homes. The purpose of our meeting was to discuss a potential ‘Women’s Walk of Delhi’ to complement the existing City Walks run by SBT. We wanted to use the women’s walk to raise awareness about women’s issues in Delhi and the workshops that the three young women are currently facilitating to help educate younger girls living on the street about issues such as growing up, periods, hygiene and consent. These are really important issues for young people living on the street where it can be difficult to access both the knowledge and products necessary to stay safe and well. Ayesha*, one of the young women, told us some of the questions she had been asked when she facilitated the first workshop last Friday. Questions such as:

“Why does our skin get so itchy?”
“Sometimes we get pains during our periods. Why?”

The young women facilitating the workshop already held an impressive array of knowledge and were easily able to answer these questions. In response to “why does our skin get itchy?”, Ayesha responded with “because you need to wash more”. Simple answer right?

Not so.

Children and young people living on the streets have extremely limited access to safe washing facilities. They also have poor access to sanitary products when they have their periods. Luckily, the young women we met today knew of an affordable and usable solution – they told us about re-usable pads which can be washed and used time and again for up to three years. We worked out the costs and it turns out to be around £35 to get these products for 50 girls.

P4061341
Three of the workshop leaders

Now this is where our ‘Women’s Walk’ really shines. We can use the money made through the walk to buy sanitary products and perhaps even set some aside to help build safe cleaning facilities for young people living on the street.

Or so we thought.

After having discussed the idea with as many SBT staff as we could, it became clear that there was a real concern for the safety of the young women leading the walking tours. It was generally felt that it wouldn’t be safe for the young women, who may be subject to unwanted attention, harassment, and even sexual harassment. Having heard these concerns, Adam, Rachel and I talked among ourselves and agreed that there was absolutely no way we would risk the safety and well-being of anyone on the team for the project. We felt deeply frustrated that the very issues we want to raise awareness about were encroaching on the feasibility of the project.

We couldn’t settle for that.

The issue of safety highlighted the importance of this initiative even more. If women are not even safe to talk and walk around familiar local neighbourhoods, urgent societal change is needed. So we’ve been thinking of alternative solutions and have a couple of exciting options. Right now, I’m going to leave you hanging – I don’t want to announce our plans while they remain half-baked. We haven’t even spoken to the young women on the team yet and it feels important to do that first. So let me leave you with a question instead: If you were to ask these young women about their experiences of growing up in Delhi from girlhood, what would you ask?

We really value your thoughts so please get involved in the conversation and comment below! If you would like to donate to the project you can do so here.

~ Alice.

*Name changed for confidentiality.