Supporting Malawi's Social Welfare
Babies are only referred to Open Arms Infant Homes by the Social Welfare team when their lives are at risk and there is no community support available. They are often in need of urgent medical help. Once at Open Arms they receive medical care, shelter and the nourishment they need to survive and return to their extended families.
Promoting family based care
Our dream would be to see all babies being cared for at home. Sadly the children that are referred to Open Arms through the Social Welfare system are at high risk and often extremely vulnerable so access to short term specialist care in our infant homes is crucial to their survival. However, where it is possible we support extended family members take on the care of a vulnerable baby at home from infancy. This may be after a short stay in our infant homes or we can work with a family who have reached out to the Social Welfare Department for support. This is a new development for Open Arms which we offer alongside our existing services to help those babies who could be cared for at home with some specialist help.
Successfully returning home
When a child is welcomed for care at Open Arms, extended family members are encouraged to visit babies to build family bonds while their health recoverd. When a child is growing and developing well they are ready to move back home and several home visits will be made in preparation. Our team will work with the wider family to explain the individual needs of each child.
There is often a family meeting where plans will be made for how the child will be cared for at home. This will include things like where the child will live, who will take on the guardianship, where the child will eat and sleep and what help is needed. The family will also look at options for nursery and schooling. Following this meeting the family will work with Open Arms to agree a support plan and make any final adjustments before the child can move back home.
Our team will invite the guardian to come to stay at Open Arms Infant Homes for a few days. This is a chance to teach guardians the daily routine and help the child adjust to their new way of life.
In the grounds of Open Arms we have a traditional house, which is similar to what children will go home to. Here the child and guardian will stay for a few days until the child is comfortable and the guardian is happy with their care.
When they do go home, they are given a care pack which helps the child have a good start at home. It includes a blanket, mosquito net, their favourite toy, clothes and 25kg of Likuni Phala (a nutrient rich maize and soya porridge).
Working alongside communities
Our community outreach team are essential in making sure that children can return home successfully. We will give parenting advice, medicines and food until children are settled and their families can support them independently. During visits we will check on the child's health and growth as well as development milestone. It is also important to support families with any medication needed and to sign post them to any specific medical support if needed. Long term independence and self sufficiency are vital and the team will work closely with the individual needs of each child and family. The families who are most at need, can receive extra sponsorship and support from Open Arms and this will be recommended by our Matron.
Communities are often very poor and rely on farming for food and income. To help ease the burden on the families who are looking after an extra child, we deliver annual packs of maize seed and fertiliser to the families and community based organisations that look after children who have been in our care. In our Blantyre home we have a small garden where banana sukers are growing. Where needed these can also be given to families along with chickens or goats to help them generate an additional income to support an extra child at home.
Due to the lack of nutrition, almost 50% of children under five in Malawi have stunted growth. Without our help the statistics would be worse.
A head start at school
Sometimes, in rural villages there are no education facilities and so in partnership with very remote communities we have built nine Nursery Schools. This is a place where over 600 children can receive free basic nursery education. And just as importantly they get a hot nutritious meal every day. This can be the only meal that a child gets in a day and so it is essential for development and growth plus it means that there will be more food to go around at home.
The Open Arms team are embedding within the communities we work with and have built up a trusted relationship with village leaders over many years. This means that communities can take ownership of the Nursery schools. A teacher, an assistant and food will be paid for by Open Arms, but the village own and run the schools.
They have become an invaluable resource to local communities and local primary school report positively on the transition that children make to school because of the head start that they have received at nursery.
Support for older children and young adults
Our principal aim is to return a fit and healthy children back to his or her home community as quickly as possible and support the family into self-sufficiency. Sadly this was not always achievable in the past and we continue to support some older children and young adults and their families who we have worked with over the longer term.
Five family homes were created in 2005 for older children who needed this longer term support. They have been home to over 25 children allowing them to grow and develop in a supportive home environment within Blantyre. We are delighted that all of these individuals are now making their own transition into life with their extended families or into an independent adulthood.
We are currently supporting these individuals with their own long term plans. Some of this include help with school, college, universities, training, setting up their own businesses as well as more holistic support with growing up and adapting to life back home. This is not always straightforward and our support adapts to the changing needs we see at each visit. Our commitment to each child and their guardians is to be there to offer support which is in line with their own goals and specific to their own needs and the needs of their family members. The result of this will be a successful transition into a independent and fulfilling adulthood for everyone.
We are delighted that advancements over the years mean that all children that are supported by Open Arms now return to permanent family guardians by the age of two years old at the very latest and from that time on we work with families and communities to support the children at home. There is no longer a need for longer term residential care in family homes which means that we have been able to focus our resources on more sustainable community based support which can make the biggest difference to the families we work with. This is something we are extremely proud of and will continue to drive forward so every child can have a future at home with their family.