Supporting families – November 23 2017

Innovating family strengthening programmes in Colombia

Over the past fifty years, Colombia has been marked by a complex internal conflict that has led to the loss of many lives, the displacement of millions of people and has caused widespread poverty. Young children and adolescents make up the most vulnerable sections of society. They have been the victims of violence, faced sexual exploitation, grown up under armed conflict and thousands have not attended school.

Addressing the cycle of poverty and isolation in Cazucá

At the SOS Children’s Village of Cazucá, in the department of Cundinamarca, south of Colombia’s capital Bogotá, many children and their families have experienced acute poverty, a lack of clean drinking water or proper sanitation and little or no access to medical services or education.

“Many of these children have grown up with adolescent mothers or in single-parent families. There’s an absence of state support and people live in make-shift housing. Children have nowhere to play, and are constantly exposed to danger in the street,” said Guillermo Vargas, Programme Director for SOS Children’s Villages Colombia.

In the short-term, SOS Children’s Villages supports such families to protect their children, to send them to school, to access healthcare, or to buy healthy meals. For those experiencing long-term poverty and isolation, it offers vocational classes, counselling for parents and a full range of social services.

“Families living through crises or extreme hardship may have difficulty caring adequately for their children. The children here face lots of difficulties and are born and grow up in extreme conditions. Many have parents who use drugs or have problems with alcohol, others are involved in illegal activities and are imprisoned,” said Angela Rosales, National Director for SOS Children’s Villages Colombia.

“Lots of them have been victims of abuse and violence and others have fled from conflict in their hometowns. We’re here to provide services and develop capacities to improve the situations of these children, by creating protective families and communities,” she added.

Paving the path towards a brighter future in Cali

In the southwestern city of Cali, an integrated community approach is allowing SOS Children's Villages to reach more children in need. The programme aims to deliver family strengthening tools, such as early childhood education centres, and to pair children up with foster carers and SOS parents. All live side-by-side with neighbours in an environment tailored to the needs of children who have lost parental care or are considered to be at risk.

A further scheme is in place to assist teenage parents. Mothers – some as young as twelve or thirteen – are offered parenting advice including guidance on giving their children the correct nutritional intake and how to meet their educational needs. They can also attend community centres to meet others facing similar circumstances, receive psychosocial support and collect food packages.

“In order to reintegrate more children with their families of origin we need to tackle the root causes.  The world has changed, and we’re developing complex, sophisticated solutions to keep up with the challenges,” said SOS Children’s Villages’ Guillermo Vargas.

The absence of a stable, caring family exposes children to multiple risk factors; making them vulnerable to neglect, abuse, discrimination and exploitation. SOS Children's Villages’ family strengthening programmes (FSPs) set out to help families lead independent lives and to raise children in healthy, protected environments. Central to this strategy are community-based initiatives to prevent the marginalisation of children.

Measuring the impact of SOS Children’s Villages’ community-centred activities

SOS Children’s Villages works with community-based organisations, local authorities and governments to build resilience among the most vulnerable groups in society.
Throughout Colombia, FSPs equip parents with a broad range of parenting skills to better care for their children. They are taught to manage issues ranging from access to education to child protection, while receiving support with food packages, tutoring and family visits.

SOS Children’s Villages Colombia is expanding its programmes so that more children can improve their life conditions. In a country transitioning to peace, where more than two sexual abuse cases against children are registered every hour, the challenges are complex. SOS Children’s Villages sets out to build a brighter future by providing a loving home for those children who have already lost their families.

For more details on our work in Colombia read our country profile.

To find out about the work at another SOS Children’s Village in Cartagena, Colombia, watch this video.