The founding principle of SOS Children’s Villages is that children are best nurtured and protected in a caring and loving family. The organization’s vision is that ‘Every child belongs to a family and grows with love, respect and security’. To achieve this vision, SOS Children’s Villages is committed to building families for children in need, helping them shape their own future, and sharing in the development of their communities. In addition to managing widespread education and health programmes, as at 2016 SOS
Children’s Villages Nigeria has created families for 770 children and supported an additional 5,922 vulnerable children at risk of losing parental care in the Family Strengthening Programme.
Our vision and mission clearly aligns with the United Nations Guidelines on Alternative Care of Children (2010), which SOS Children’s Villages International contributed to the drafting of the document, along with other the accompanying document. The United Nations Guidelines on Alternative Care of Children state:
“…the family being the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth, well-being and protection of children…”
“In accordance with the predominant opinion of experts, alternative care for young children, especially those under the age of 3 years, should be provided in family-based settings.”
SOS Children’s Villages: a pioneer in quality alternative care for children. In 1949, when children without parental care were frequently placed in orphanages – most often large and impersonal institutions – SOS Children’s Villages played a leading role in advocating that the physical, cognitive and emotional needs of children were better addressed in smaller and personalized family-like environments. It thus introduced an entirely new
model of child care that was based on the provision of a loving family unit with a stable caregiver and siblings. This concern with providing for the developmental needs of a child in a family-like setting made the organization a pioneer in early de-institutionalization debates, and continues to be the
trademark of SOS Children’s Villages’ Family-Based Care programme ensuring child-appropriate solutions on a case-by-case basis.
In order to ensure that children develop in a caring and loving family environment, SOS Children’s Villages offers different types of programmes. Most SOS Villages Nigeria programme participants are actually being supported by the organization in their families of origin through the Family Strengthening Program. This programme helps parents and communities build capacities to care for their children and prevent family breakdown. However, when a child or youth has no family, or their safety requires it, SOS Children’s Villages implements the Family-Based Care (Alternative Care) programme for children who have lost parental care. Regardless of the type of service SOS Children’s Villages offers children and youth, all programmes are guided by the Children’s Villages Programme Policy. This means that the organization considers each child on a case-by-case basis and decides,
after consultation with different stakeholders (including the child), which alternative care option is most appropriate for that particular child. Indeed, the Children’s Villages Programme Policy, which was published in 2009, explains that ‘based on this analysis [of the best interests of the child] and
available resources, we develop our programme and make “tailored” responses to the situation of the children in our target group.’ This approach, too, is in line with the United Nations Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children.
The way forward
As an organization committed to providing quality services to children and youth in the most private and important of settings – the family – SOS Children’s Villages has had to professionalize its staff, and homogenize and
monitor its practices. However, as it has been noticed, through time and by force of circumstance, some institutional features have crept into our family based care programme. Some of these institutionalized features include: family houses that do not correspond to the socioeconomic standards of the surrounding community and are cut off from it by a physical or psychological
wall/fence; administrative buildings that stand side-by side other facilities like schools and medical centers, the limitation of the children’s interaction with other community members as well as the day-to-day details such as SOS’s purchasing groceries in bulk for the whole village, signing of registers by youth or mothers when going out of the facility(ies); or frequent and disruptive visits by some donors, and SOS houses/homes that have the names of sponsors on the walls etc. these contribute to the institutional
atmosphere in our programme location. SOS Children’s Villages is now working hard to combat these institutional features by promoting innovation. The commitment of SOS Children’s Villages to alternative forms of care that are family-based and attentive to the social and emotional needs of the child underlines everything the organization does.
“…based on this analysis [of the best interests of the child] and available resources, we develop our programme and make ‘tailored’ responses to the situation of the children in
our target group.”
– SOS Children’s Villages Programme Policy
The way forward for SOS Children’s Villages, as outlined in its Strategy 2030, is to:
- Strengthening the care profession and developing more alternative care partnerships strengthening;
- Learn from existing innovative models;
- Physically and socially integrate SOS families into the community;
- Develop and implement a range of other care responses such as foster care, kinship care; and
- partner with other providers of alternative care to
achieve a nationwide improvement in the conditions
of children without parental care.
Throughout the world, SOS Children’s Villages innovative programmes have already paid off and children are being well taken care of in a myriad of ways; such as trained foster parents who may have their own biological children, in homes indistinguishable from community houses; and in settings fully integrated with other community members.
For example, SOS South Africa, in its QwaQwa location, has facilitated children’s living in community homes where full-time caretakers are employed by a community-based organization.
SOS Ethiopia, in its Bahir Dar location, provides another example where SOS families are being integrated into the community and living in unfenced homes undistinguishable from the rest.
SOS Children’s Villages Nigeria has also started to innovate its alternative care programme by ensuring that children are not moved to the youth homes as soon as they reached 14-15 years, but remain in the family houses to provide support for the mothers in the care of their sibling like in any other normal family.
Implementing the Children’s Villages Programme Policy and providing quality alternative care through a range of forms is an ongoing process, with programme locations at significantly different stages of developing a range of appropriate alternative care options. SOS Children’s Villages will continue innovating and improving, all the while counting on children’s feedback and keeping their best interest at the core of all new developments.
SOS Children’s Village in Rustenburg, South Africa
In this community, SOS families live in homes that are comparable to other in the neighborhood and are fully integrated into the community. SOS children play on the same streets and attend the same schools as their neighbors.