‘Care and protection of the child in need: The bits don’t add up’

THE child in need of care and protection does not feature on anybody’s agenda. The numbers prove that. From 12.44 million a decade ago,they are now 25 million! Between NGOs,private companies’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) and government schemes,scattered bits of work have of course been done. But clearly the bits are not adding up. The […]

Pune | Published: November 14, 2013 2:36:18 am

THE child in need of care and protection does not feature on anybody’s agenda. The numbers prove that. From 12.44 million a decade ago,they are now 25 million! Between NGOs,private companies’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) and government schemes,scattered bits of work have of course been done. But clearly the bits are not adding up.

The government’s most recent endeavor,The Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS),seeks to loop different aspects of child welfare into a cohesive whole. Children from poor families,institutionalised children and street children have been brought within its purview. After four years,the time is opportune to assess its impact.

The ICPS is conceptualised well and reflects fresh thinking. The scheme acknowledges that “the child is best brought up in a family” and addresses rehabilitation in terms of a specific plan for the child and focuses on family care.

But there are several concerns that the ICPS needs to address. Like many Centrally-sponsored schemes,the ICPS too has a ‘one size fits all’ design. The framework is outlined and funds are earmarked. There is very little room for maneuverability,no discretion over funds,grants are tied to rigid norms and variables across states are ignored. And yet,the entire responsibility for the implementation falls on the state.

Many states,ill-equipped to handle the responsibility of implementation,are now floundering,not sure how best to utilise the huge administrative staff and infrastructure they have created as mandated by the scheme. Some states have returned and continue to return unutilised funds.

In terms of childcare,restoring children to their homes is top priority. Children,who have parental contact,are reunited with their families and supported with a monthly sponsorship. The underlying thought it appears is that pumping more money into families will result in better childcare. Growing up in one’s own family is no doubt the best option for a child,yet you have to accept that all homes are not congenial to a child’s upbringing. Many institutionalised children are there because the parent,often a daily-wage worker,has no one to leave the child with. Also,schools and health facilities may not be available. Then again,several street children are on the roads because they have escaped from a disruptive family environment. What purpose could be served by sending children back to such homes?

Adoption is advocated as a major rehabilitation measure. Accordingly,some state agencies have been brought under the purview of the Central authority. Also,some additional orphanages have been licenced as ‘adoption agencies’. Unfortunately,some of those agencies do not have a single child. It is common knowledge that there aren’t enough children for adoption. In the absence of efforts to bring more children into the adoption stream,the steps are no more than cosmetic.

The Child Welfare Committee is perhaps the weakest link in the entire child-rehab chain. The ICPS fails to recognise that traditionally CWC members are nominated appointees infamous for erratic attendance,arrogance and zero accountability.

There is a need for a more nuanced approach. From being micro-managers,the Centre must become goal setters and performance monitors. Also,fiscal transfers must depend on qualitative outcomes of clearly defined goals and targets. Secondly,the Centre must be able to justify the huge manpower invested in at the district levels. Third,the Centre must actively work towards an interlocking institutional structure where one agency can act as a support/check on another.

Here are some things that can be done immediately.

With adequate manpower now available,each district can begin with a mapping survey to list all childcare institutions and assess their registration status. Institutions would accordingly be guided to register under the JJA,the State Child Protection Act or as an NGO,thereby eliminating unauthorised institutions. Also,the survey would deliver a headcount of all institutionalised children categorised age-wise,sex-wise and in terms of parental support. Based on this information,ongoing parental contact could be ensured for every child and if not available,the child could be put up for adoption.

n Concurrently,extensive promotional campaigns could be organised to cover anganwadis,health centres,community centres,police, CWCs and the judiciary.

n The possibility of introducing foster care could be explored. To begin with,those children who have no homes to go to could spend vacation time with foster families.

n For CWC members,the state could mandate participation in Centrally-organised training programmes.

n Also,an e-learning initiative could be explored as part of the CSR of an organisation in the e-learning space.

n Finally,the Centre could consider terminating the funding arrangement over a period of time. The ICPS does specify a three-year time-frame. However,going by past experience,government funding seems to be perennial,albeit under different schemes,with a new scheme replacing an earlier one.

n NGOs running institutions must learn to go beyond government funding.

n CSR is now a big opportunity that must be tapped. Tie-ups with corporates or retail funding organisations must be encouraged,even imposed.

The ICPS cannot end as another wasted effort. The ministry must decide that they want to deliver to the nation a youth population of contributing members and not just a community of adults who have been kept alive only to add to the nation’s burden.

Bharati Dasgupta

The writer is Co-Founder,

Catalysts for Social Action

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