Being a Part of — Not Apart From — Communities Where We Work

Shannon Senefeld, Catholic Relief Services Vice President, Program Impact & Quality Assurance

In my travels around the world for Catholic Relief Services, I learned the critical importance of understanding community context. “Changing the Way We Care” — which supports the transition from orphanage-based to family-based care for children — will be working in a wide range of civic, socio-economic, traditional, and religious settings. Community engagement in these settings is critical. We have to be a part of — not apart from — our work.

CRS, with our partners Lumos and Maestral International, know from decades of hands-on experience that dialogue is crucial: with parents, faith leaders, traditional authorities, child protection committees, community-based organizations, and service providers. It is important to understand their perspective on the full spectrum of family care options, including reintegration with biological families, to kinship care, foster care, and adoption.

Once we have a common understanding of the community context, we move to articulating a vision for the community around family care. This can include educational support, therapeutic support for special needs children, early intervention education, parenting skills classes, and after school care. We also look for ways to involve religious and interfaith leaders in family support. By identifying the challenges families face, and the reasons why children are placed in institutions, we can better design a locally-embraced plan that works for children and families.

While we sometimes need to work ‘top down,’ the greatest satisfaction I get from my work is seeing real change on the ground. And of all the programs I work with, none are more moving than those that work successfully to find safe and loving families for children, whatever community they live in.

This post was first published on the MacArthur Foundation website.

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