Street children are there for a variety of reasons, principally connected with family break-up. All will have experienced trauma.
Because the situations in different places will be highly variable, the interventions needed to give street children the opportunities in life that they should have will vary. Much depends on the resource, skill and understanding of the individuals and organisations who get involved in trying to help. It is worth noting that there’s often a hierarchy on the streets, with older, stronger and/or sharper kids becoming the leaders (and possibly the bullies). The situation can be made more difficult because of violence from vigilante groups and/or from the police, and one of the objectives of programmes for the children must be to get the local community on-side as far as possible.
It must be recognised by everyone involved, that the children themselves have the right to participate in decisions made about them. One common pattern is that the first approach will be one of trying to ‘get to know you’.
The first point of contact is with outreach workers. Their job is to gain the confidence of street children, who are often harassed, exploited and frequently tricked by adults. It involves trying to understand the situation and needs of the children, and assessing what they themselves might find acceptable and helpful. Sometimes these approaches can best be made by ex-street children, who can both empathise and ‘speak their language’. It can be very difficult to gain the confidence of youngsters, some of whom have had to be independent of adults from a very early age, and who hardly know the meaning of the word ‘trust’. In some places there are “child led families” on the streets (possibly because their parents have died of AIDS) where the “leader” is only ten or twelve years old. One of our NGOs told us that it was quite common for girls to disguise themselves as boys by keeping their hair short and wearing boys clothes, since they felt safer on the street as a boy rather than as a girl. The workers from the NGO only discovered this when they had set up a day centre for boys – and we know of others who have had similar experiences.
A key part of any intervention is to give a child both stability and hope. Programmes need to be fun, active and relevant – and different approaches are needed for those actually sleeping on the streets and others from (slum) homes who are just working on the streets. The children need motivating – to come and join in and possibly as well to ‘start the day drugfree’, which will be a great achievement for some. Having gained the confidence of the children, the next stage is to offer and provide things that they need, in a safe environment. This is very much what is done by Let the Children Live, the Hope Village Society, among others (see under the NGOs we support) pages.The outreach workers generally try to get the children to come to a day centre. There they will have the opportunity of having contact with people they can grow to trust, of getting some (basic non-formal) education, a meal, and a regular health check.
It may be that this is the first structured thing that they have ever done, so it can be quite hard, when children are used to being their own master all the time. On the other hand, access to regular food and to possible help and support can be enough to encourage children to continue to come. The next stage is to get the children to stick with the non-formal education, and wherever possible, get them into a ‘formal’ school. Another objective is to get them into a much safer environment by providing a night shelter.
Most NGOs try first to reunite children with their families, if this is possible, since it is there and in their natural community that they will probably have the best chances for development. However, for some children, the need is to move on into a residential facility where they can eventually get some vocational training. The transition, however, can be a difficult one. A residential home won’t suit all of them. Many such facilities are caring for a lot of children at the same time and there is a danger that they can become institutionalised. If children run away from a programme, it needs to be made clear that it’s OK to come back, because sometimes things will happen which will make them feel they cannot cope in the short-term, with the structure provided by an NGO. If you look at the details of the NGOs we support, and also under Links you will be able to follow a wide range of different stories about the ways organisations seek to intervene. There are also some links in the page below entitled ‘to explore more widely’.
SSSK is pleased that we are able to support a variety of NGOs working effectively in different ways to empower and support street children, giving them opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have.