For nearly two years, many of us at Whole Child have been engaged in a strategic planning process aimed at figuring out how to effectively and cost-effectively expand the program we’ve been developing and evaluating for 14 years. It’s provided clarity to help plan for the future, and has fed the development of our current project in El Salvador, recently supported by a $4.9 million USAID award.
The problem we’re solving has not changed much since Whole Child was founded in 2004. Millions of vulnerable children around the world suffer from a lack of stable, nurturing relationships in low-quality care settings. This is particularly true for children in developing countries growing up in residential care and those from low-income families who spend the majority of their day in early childcare centers. These children’s developmental needs are often not met, resulting in stunting, high levels of criminality, and other adverse outcomes — reinforcing the cycles of poverty and child abandonment through generations.
Current systems tend to be over-reliant on residential care, but replacing residential care has many obstacles. In particular, residential care is generally funded by individual charities whose resources cannot simply be transferred to family-based systems. In addition, the existing social-workforce is inadequate to respond to child protection needs and supervision of family-based care.
Our solution, in its entirety, and at all levels, focuses on building capacity within and building upon a country’s existing government infrastructure, with decision-makers and supervisors being our main focus. In addition, we train and mentor local academia, center directors, and caregivers. Working in early-childhood centers, residential care centers, and foster care programs, we implement evidence-based best practices in relationship-centered care, establishing such care as a national standard.
Within residential care centers, in addition to the implementation of best practices, we work collaboratively to expand the breadth of their services to include family reunification and support, running small-scale foster programs, and appropriate monitoring. This leverages existing resources within the existing residential-care community while safely reducing the number of children outside of family-based care.