The research with street connected girls offered new insights into how vulnerabilities of girls and their families can be understood and informed rights-based interventions to improve intergenerational relationships and the girls’ wellbeing through a variety of social protection and child protection interventions.
- Pendekezo Letu’s (PKL) intervention is highly successful in reintegrating street connected girls that have some support from their caregivers, usually adult female members of their families, into education.
- The success of the intervention relies on a combination of behavioural change activities which promote the positive wellbeing of girls at an individual level, as well as economic strengthening for families.
- The PKL case study demonstrates the success of significant community involvement through the development of community-based child protection committees which undercuts myths concerning the unwillingness of community actors to engage in the protection of street children.
- Pendekezo Letu’s work with government agencies has been a positive experience and may lay the foundation for developing a more comprehensive child protection system which links alternative education, community child protection mechanisms and street-children.
- The intervention is less successful for girls facing high levels of risk (including drugs, alcoholism and extreme abuse). This suggests that more intensive interventions are needed to more support those most at risk.
From the evidence generated from over 200 street connected girls, a new understanding of vulnerability has made a positive contribution to Pendekezo Letu’s rehabilitation and reintegration programmes. Their new theory of change, informed by the research, includes understanding the risks facing girls and their families and the level of support that children receive from their peers and street connected families. Previously, Pendekezo Letu offered a ten-month programme of rehabilitation for marginalised girls who were living and working on the streets while working with their mothers on income generation, however, the research showed that this approach only worked for some of the girls. A spectrum of risk and vulnerability was generated to help Pendekezo Letu to develop their programmes. In situations where children are living in poverty but have some level of family support, community-based child protection committees are being developed. Girls are not separated from their families but work with community members trained in child rights and with local chiefs, social workers, religious and community leaders, together with governmental and non-governmental services to ensure that girls can be supported in achieving a better quality of life, including being supported into education. Child clubs in school can also be useful in addressing child rights and helping girls who are street connected to integrate into and stay in school.
The research also showed that when girls are facing certain risks and are more vulnerable then they may need a safe and separate space while interventions are targeted at their family members who can then continue to support them. Rehabilitation for a period of months can give children access to one-to-one psychosocial support, counselling and life skills training while parents (often mothers) with HIV, AIDS or other debilitating illnesses or living in extreme poverty can be assisted to improve their health and wellbeing so they can better support their children.
Girls from severely dysfunctional families facing multiple risks, such as physical and sexual abuse, prostitution, drug and alcohol abuse or involvement with brewing and selling illicit brew, alcoholism and criminal activity, need additional support. Interventions included building on programmes that are working to advocate for street connected children in the criminal justice system, child rights training for the police and providing counselling and child rights training for abusive parents (often fathers).
The project highlighted the importance of involving street connected children as active participants in research while understanding their different vulnerabilities and the risks they face in the community; we learn from asking children and young people themselves about how we can understand their complex lives.
Key to success is developing an understanding about intergenerational relationships in order to break cycles of poverty and marginalisation. Interventions need to support street connected children while appreciating the importance of their relationships with peers, families and adults in their communities. Therefore, rights-based interventions need to be holistic to include care and protection of the most vulnerable and provide assistance to street connected families and marginalised communities.