HelpKids work with local and regional governments in Sri Lanka in the area of Child Welfare and Protection.
ACCI Field workers Narel & Alison Atkinson have seen incredible impact through their community based care for children in Sri Lanka. Together with their team, they oversee and run the operation of The HelpKids Centre, based near a large slum in Colombo.
The HelpKids Centre has provided early childhood education since 2006 to children who are living on the streets with their parents or who are from the surrounding slums. Their mission is to focus on the whole child by providing a secure, nurturing, and educational environment for children - a place for children to grow into responsible, considerate and contributing members of society. This project aims to uphold the rights of vulnerable children in Sri Lanka by keeping children in families and providing them access to education. Rather than operating in isolation to government services who share this same vision, HelpKids works in partnership.
Local government has primary responsibility over these issues of child welfare, and has a duty of care to their citizens. However, most government agencies are resource-stricken, and struggle to adequately deal with these issues. Many seek the partnership of NGOs to assist in delivering essential services. By HelpKids working together with governments, they strengthen the support available to families and children rather than duplicating available options.
In recent months, HelpKids has had many opportunities to work closely with the local Divisional Secretariat and their officials from the Social Service Ministry of the Western Province in Colombo. They have worked together to run programs that support children with disabilities and the elderly in their community. Furthermore, they are presently working with the government to support them in developing the National Alternative Care Policy with the hope that Foster Care will be set up in Sri Lanka.
As part of this focus on Alternative Care, various government services took part in HelpKids training seminars on family reunification. Alison and Narel recently held a seminar with 100 local government officials, probation officers, social workers and matrons of government children’s homes. Alison shares:
“The system here is that before a mother can put her child into a children’s home she has to get a letter from the local government official. Without this letter she cannot put the child into a home. So we trained and brought an awareness to local government officials in our area of the damage children’s homes do to a child and how a child is better cared for in a family. We encouraged them to help the families stay together by looking at the root cause of why they want to give up their child. We have now heard a couple of stories where the local government officials have thought more about this and have helped families keep their kids.
“When we began our work in Colombo our vision was to work with children, specifically those at high risk of, or who are already being, abused. We chose to work with whole communities and families, rather than the child in isolation, in acknowledgment that a child’s development is intrinsically linked to their family and environment.”
HelpKids is highly recognised and respected in their community for the work they do in strengthening families. They recently received an award as recognition of this social service - an incredible achievement after many years of hard work and persistence! Their child development centres are also held up by local government as a model, in terms of the standard of care provided to children.
The work of HelpKids not only has direct impact on hundreds of children and families’ lives, but also has significant impact within the local government and social service systems, and will impact many individuals who interact with these services over years to come.