A-Dung and his grandmother in front of their thatched house.
© UNICEF Viet Nam\2012\Nguyen Thi Thanh Huong
Nine persons in this family live on the modest income of A-Dung’s uncle and his wife. Having a small piece of land, they do not grow enough rice for the family. They also raise chickens and piglets to sell at the local market but still their income is not enough to make ends meet for such a big family. They used to receive some rice from the Government which helped them to get by and wait for the next harvest.
However, recently they no longer received any support, because it was given to other poorer households in the community. In Hua Ngai commune, almost 90 per cent of the families are poor, which means their income is under $20 per person and per month.
A-Dung will turn 13 this year and he is attending the 7th grade in the school nearby. Going to school on an empty stomach is common for the boy. “It’s hard enough for my son to care for his own children, but he also has to take care of me and A-Dung. They work really hard but do not earn enough to fill the stomach of the children”, says Khang Thi Xa, A-Dung’s grandmother. “A-Dung always looks sad and I don’t know what he thinks most of the time as he rarely talks. I hope he is not sick, because if he is, I don’t know what to do!”
Alternative care for children without adequate parental care
There are approximately 2.1 million children living in extremely difficult circumstances in Viet Nam, including 176,000 orphaned and abandoned children. The majority of these children live in informal arrangements within the community.
The Government has a policy to support those children and their foster families through social assistance and cash transfers to children in vulnerable circumstances including orphans, abandoned children and children in foster care. However, the reach of such policies remains limited. Many children do not receive support because local authorities are not aware of their situation. Many of them do not even ‘exist’ as their births have not been registered.
“Children in poor families, especially those without parental care, are facing many problems. They do not have access to health care services as they cannot afford it. They may drop out of school to work. Many of them migrate to big cities and then end up living on the streets or being exploited in small workshops. They are also at risk of being trafficked and sexually abused. These children need support to be able to overcome their difficult situation before getting into problems” says Sung Dung Cu, Child Protection Worker of Hua Ngai Commune.
Viet Nam does not yet have a continuum of professional social and child protective services with a clear mechanism for prevention, early detection/identification, early intervention and referral to specialised support services. There are limited options in the community to support families with children in need of special protection. There is a serious lack of professional social workers at community levels.
A continuum of care for vulnerable children
A year ago, a Child Protection Committee was established in Hua Ngai Commune. Headed by the Chairperson of the Commune People’s Committee, the Child Protection Committee consists of ten members including teachers, health workers, child protection workers and members of mass organisations. The Committee has made an investigation in the commune to identify children in difficult circumstances and their needs. A case manager assigned by the Committee takes responsibility for the needs assessment, referral to the required services and follow up with the child and her/his family. Depending on the situation and needs of the individual child the committee develops a plan to help her/him.
As the result of the case management practice, A-Dung was referred to the Social Welfare Service and is now receiving VND180,000 ($9) allowance a month and a free health insurance card. “The allowance is not enough to feed A-Dung, but it helps us to cover some expenses for him like clothes, soap and learning aids. It may help to keep him in school”, says A-Dung’s grandmother.
UNICEF has advocated with the Government in recent years to apply a systems-based approach to child protection to prevent child abuse, exploitation and neglect and to respond in cases where children are at risk or are victims of abuse, exploitation or neglect. Besides strengthening the legal framework for child protection, UNICEF also introduced professional social work and case management as a cornerstone for a functioning child protection structure, helping build the capacity of those dealing with child protection issues.
“Though it is the first time we conduct case management, I am confident to carry this out as I was trained on the issue. However, I hope that we will have better services to help vulnerable children. Take A-Dung case as an example, I am pretty sure that he has some psychological problems as the boy rarely talks. But we don’t know how to help him. None of us have the skills required and there are no such services around”, says Sung Dung Cu – A-Dung’s case manager.
In Viet Nam, family and community-based care models such as foster care, small group homes and respite day care remain quite scattered and in most cases not formalised or regulated by the state.
“Whereas case management helps us to understand the needs of a vulnerable child and develop a specific response plan, without multi-sectoral child protection systems and diversified services we cannot successfully help her/him,” says Le Hong Loan, Chief of the Child Protection Programme of UNICEF Viet Nam. “UNICEF will continue to work with the Government to improve the child protection legal framework, child protection structures, and services to ensure that every child receives the support s/he needs”.
By Nguyen Thi Thanh Huong