Every child has the right to connect to family, community and opportunity

In Nepal, there are 489 registered orphanages, housing 11,350 children.  

How many children could be living in family-based care? How many children are living in orphanages that are not registered or flying under the radar?  From over 60 years of international research, we know that children who grow up in institutions such as the orphanage model of care experience more physical, emotional and psychological issues throughout their lives – it’s why Forget Me Not Australia exists. 

Children deserve to be thriving, vibrant and connected to family, community and opportunity.

Forget Me Not Australia aims to bring about awareness of the issues of orphanages in developing countries, like Nepal.  

They also provide support to reunite children with family, whether they are parents or extended family that can care for them.  

Research also tells us that more than 85 per cent – potentially up to 97 per cent – of the children living in these residential institutions are not orphans and have both or one living parent.  

We know that these children come from families living in poverty, who cannot access education or have disabilities due to the family’s inability to access resources. 

The children are often trafficked into orphanages and used to generate funds through well-meaning donations, volunteering, mission-based work and tourist trips. 

When children leave these institutions at 16, they have no ties to their original communities or connections with their families.  

They are subjected to homelessness and their future opportunities are limited.  

Forget Me Not works with local Nepalese governments and fosters partnerships to support children who have been trafficked to be able to return to their communities.  

They also work to support children and young people to reintegrate into their families in safe and effective ways.  

They provide the family with resources to engage in education and look forward to better outcomes not only for themselves but for the often remote communities they live in. 

All children should grow up in a family.

Forget Me Not conducts groundbreaking work to change how support is provided to children who have been exploited through modern-day slavery and used for orphanage tourism and for-profit organisations.  

In 2009, Forget Me Not changed its model and began to deliver a three-year model of support on a child-by-child case to ensure that the child is given adequate and individualised support to return to family care.  

The organisation works in partnership with the local government to identify children trafficked into these institutions and works with them to provide a service that includes housing them in a transitional home, where they can help locate family members who can care for them. 

They provide education, medical care, psychosocial support, nutritious food, and attentive and dedicated caretakers.

After the child is safe, the next step is to support the child to rebuild relationships with their family, with a plan of reunification and reconnection that centres on the child’s needs and ensures their safety at each step.  

CEO of Forget Me Not, Ms Andrea Nave, said: “We believe that every child has the right to be connected to family, community, and opportunities.  

“We want to ensure that the support given to each child returning home reflects that child’s unique and individual needs and it’s done in the safest way possible.  

“Many complex issues form how we support each child. Some children need more time to reintegrate into the family home,” Ms Nave added.  

“The average age of children when they come into contact with us is between 8 – 12 years old with varying amounts of time that they have been away from their families, and we want to make sure that it’s done in the child’s timeframe and with their support needs being the top priority.” Ms Nave continued.  

Ms Nave said she is very proud of the work being done on the ground and with the local employees. 

“We hire only local people to support our mission on the ground, most of them being women and a high portion being people who have gone through similar experiences,” she added.

Communities are working together to end child trafficking into orphanages and keep children in families.

Organisations like Forget Me Not, and the diverse network they work alongside, raise awareness for children’s rights to be in family-based care to ensure they have the best opportunity to thrive by investing in innovative initiatives that keep children within their families and communities.   

Ms Nave said that the cost of returning a child home safely, under their current 3-year model, is $3,000. 

Over the next two years, Forget Me Not, in partnership with the Martin James Foundation, Hope and Homes for Children and The Himalayan Innovative Society will focus on developing a model of community-owned foster care in Nepal.  

They aim to demonstrate that foster care can be a part of the solution to keep children in families instead of institutions and they will establish pilot foster care programs based on legal frameworks and the child protection needs of two municipalities, one being semi-urban and the other being more rural.  

The models developed through this project will be documented and assessed to inform scale-up and replication in other areas of the country. 

“Children’s right to alternative care is a fundamental human right,” Ms Nave added.  

“Foster care is one of the solutions to give a child a family, a community, and a strong sense of belonging. This partnership will create a solution for Nepal’s most vulnerable children, who need love, care, and protection.”