Reclaiming Hope and Belonging for Youth Leaving Institutional Care in Uganda

J. Boulet - February 15, 2022

Currently, an estimated 50,000 children live in institutions and orphanages throughout Uganda. Children living in an institution often experience abuse, cruelty, and/or neglect that impacts their mental health. When children age out of institutionalized care systems they are ill-equipped to manage their mental health and have not developed the necessary life skills to live independently. Between 80-90% of Ugandan children in orphanages have families they have been separated from due to an inability to provide the medical, educational, and social services that the child needs. 

Attachment is a necessary and inevitable part of human development. A young child’s attachment to their caregiver(s) determines how they form relations as children, adults, and with themselves, as well as their self-image and sense of belonging/purpose. These relationships are key to how children, young people, and, in particular, care leavers (children who have aged out of orphanages) might cope with and recover from trauma. 

We know that children develop best and reach their full potential when they live in family environments. 

No Limit Generation, Child’s i Foundation, and Makerere University have teamed up on a project delivering mental health care to institutionalized children, caregivers, and Ugandan orphanages. The project is the result of a Canada Grand Challenges grant that seeks scalable and youth-led solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges. The Project aims to increase the availability of mental health services, curb the spread of orphanages and support vulnerable children and care leavers with the family and community support they need to succeed. Currently, less than 1% of the Uganda national health budget is allocated to mental health.  

This project is unique in that the curriculum was designed using feedback from the youth, and their perspective of the challenges that they faced and has a human-centered communication process. The focus is a three-pronged approach in demonstrating an alternative to orphanages. First, an emphasis on prevention by working with the government to strengthen services that can respond to families in need. Second, creating a foster care type system for children who are unable to return to their families of origin, preferably in locations near their biological families. Kafalah is the Islamic practice of guardianship of orphaned children. Third, helping orphanages transition to non-residential community centers to assist families and help prevent separation