Managing foster care relationships for South Sudanese children

Friday 11 May 2018

By Sylvia Nabanoba, Communications Coordinator

To be a foster child may not be an easy thing, much more a foster parent.

However, this is the situation hundreds of child refugees from South Sudan find themselves in, while in the countries where they have taken refuge from the unending civil conflict in their country.

Fifteen-year-old Eseza* is one such child. She grew up with her father in Morobo, South Sudan, her mother having died while she was a baby. The fighting that broke out in 2016 and went on into 2017 claimed her father too, leaving Eseza in the care of an aunt.


However, when war broke out in her home area Eseza made her way to Uganda in January 2018, along with a distant relative, Mary Poni, who also had four children with her (three hers and one her brother’s). Since Poni was neither her parent nor guardian, Eseza was registered as an unaccompanied child.

“On arrival in Omugo refugee resettlement, Save the Children placed Eseza in a protection shelter with other unaccompanied children,” says Harriet Adongpiny, Child Protection Officer with Save the Children.

However, Eseza failed to fit within the group and requested to stay with Poni.

With funding from the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) department, Save the Children has been implementing a child protection project in refugee settlements in Arua, Adjumani, Yumbe and Moyo districts. Omugo refugee settlement in Arua district is one of the recipients, where Save the Children is implementing a fostering programme that involves placing unaccompanied children under foster care, and facilitating good relationships between foster children and their foster parents.

“We carry out a Best Interest Assessment, through which we gauge the best solution for the child. In this case, a foster family was, so Save the Children engaged Poni,” says Adongpiny.

Poni (left) with her children and foster child Eseza* (right)

Eseza has tried to fit within Poni’s family, helping out with chores and supporting to take care of the younger children. However, since she is a teenager, the behaviour that comes along with adolescence has been a source of tension between the two, putting her place in Poni’s family at risk.

“She would go out with other young girls to watch plays and music at night. She would return home late, something that did not please me,” says Poni.

The settlements are not safe at night, especially for young females, Poni says. They are not well-lit and there are lots of young men whiling the time away. It is no wonder that Poni wants Eseza at home once dusk sets in.

“Save the Children had to intervene to save the relationship between the two, especially since Eseza had settled into the family and still wanted to stay there,” says Adongpiny.

As part of its child protection programme, Save the Children has a foster parenting programme that is run in all the settlements hosting refugees. In Omugo refugee settlement, which is home to about 42,000 refugees, Save the Children works with both foster parents and children in a bid to ensure protection from abuse, neglect as well as harmonious relationships.

Save the Children staff make regular home visits to check on both the fostered children and their parents. Save the Children also organises dialogues for the fostered children and their parents to talk about their experiences, share challenges and solutions as well as pass on some important information.

“The dialogues have greatly helped to improve my relationship with Eseza,” Poni says. “I have learnt how to resolve conflict and how to talk to teenagers like her. I know that I have to speak to her in a polite and persuasive manner, no matter how angry I am.”

Besides conflict resolution, in the dialogues parents receive information on taking care of children, the children’s rights as well as positive discipline. Children, too, get to know their rights, responsibilities and obligations within the families where they have been placed.

Being that her foster mother has four other children to take care of, yet she is unemployed, Save the Children ensures that they provide some of the essentials for Eseza. She has received sanitary towels, soap, books and pens for school. This has been a boost for her since she is very keen on school.

“I love English and Social Studies and want to be a nurse when I grow up. My father was a doctor, so I want to help people like he did,” she says.

After school, Eseza usually goes to the child-friendly space run by Save the Children. It too, was set up and runs programmes with support from the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) department. There, she is part of the netball team, a game she thoroughly enjoys and plays in the position of shooter/scorer. She is also part of a peer support group, a group of young boys and girls who meet every Saturday to discuss various issues affecting them.

“We get to talk about our challenges and offer solutions to each other. It is helpful – it helps relieve what may be heavy on your heart,” says Eseza.

Save the Children has taken it upon itself to ensure that the groups staging music, dance and drama at night in the refugee settlements change their schedule.

“It was a protection concern, and we reported it to the Office of the Prime Minister, which tasked the Refugee Welfare Councils within the settlement to ensure that the plays were staged earlier," says Adongpiny.

“We now live happily together,” says Poni with a smile. “Eseza has just returned from collecting firewood, and will soon be making supper for the family.”

 * not real name