Family Strengthening

What are Family Strengthening Programmes?

Every Child should have the chance of a family-based childhood.

Family helped by SOS MalawiSOS Children cares and supports children who have lost, or who are at risk of losing, the care of their biological family.  Family strengthening programmes aim to prevent children from losing the care of their family.  We strengthen the ability of families to protect and care for their children, and strengthen safety nets for vulnerable children and their families within the community. Where children have lost the care of their biological family, we provide family-based care within our SOS Children’s Villages.

Family is best

The biological family includes the children's birth parents, biological siblings and other relatives. Children are considered to have lost the care of their family when they have been physically separated from their family.  This includes situations where:

  • Children's carers pass away

  • Children are abandoned by their family

  • Children run away from their family

  • Children are sent away by their family for economic reasons

  • Children are separated from their family due to political or environmental circumstances

  • Carers leave the family home for economic opportunities

  • State authorities remove the child from their family (as in the best interests of the child)

As a result, children are often placed in institutional care (not family-based care) or exposed to a life on the street, sexual exploitation or child labour. Children are viewed as being at risk of losing the care of their family when their carers lack the capacity or commitment to adequately care for their children.

When do families need help?

Clearly, preventing children getting on the streets is much more cost effective and better for the child then trying to rehabilitate the children later. However, it is much better to be able to focus on children where the risk is genuinely high rather than diluting assistance across a whole community.

There are social risk factors to children losing family care. However, they vary considerably around the world. What is a high risk group in one community setting may not be so in another community setting (for example because groups which are objects of stigma in some places such as single mothers or HIV sufferers may be less at risk of failing as carers in more supportive cultures). It is therefore necessary to assess what the main risk factors are that put children most at risk of losing the care of their family (which can often start with a review of reasons why children have ended up at a nearby SOS Children’s Villages). By studying these factors, we can specify the target group within a community. This allows us to help in a very targeted way without actually judging a particular carer as likely to fail.

For example, in communities which have been hit hard by HIV/AIDS, the single biggest risk factor is likely to be the impact of the epidemic itself, and the target group shall include children whose parents have a life threatening illness, children who have lost their parents (Aids Orphans) and children living in orphan households.  In other community settings, the range and balance of main risk factors shall be different and the composition of the target group will vary accordingly.

Programme services are directed towards families within the target group.  Services are made available to the family as a whole, including all of the children and carers within the family.  While children at risk of losing the care of their family are our target group, we also work with their carers, to help them better protect and care for their children.

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In Africa, SOS Children cares for nearly 16,000 sponsored children in loving family homes.