A world where no child is forced to live on the Street: Retrak

Retrak is a UK based international charity (registered charity number 1122799) that has been working with street children for 20 years. Our vision is a world where no child is forced to live on the street. We work to transform highly vulnerable children’s lives; preserve families; empower communities and give them a platform for their voices to be heard. Today Retrak provides support to children and families in Uganda, Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Retrak works with over 25,259 beneficiaries across countries, providing children living on the streets with food, temporary shelter & accommodation, catch-up education, medicines and medical treatment, vocational training and counselling in our transition centres. In addition, Retrak works to deinstitutionalise children from government orphanages and remand homes.

Retrak works with families and children to reintegrate children back into safe family care. This involves working with and following-up families to build their capacity to protect and provide for their children through parenting skills training, income generation activities and community work with vulnerable families to prevent children coming to the streets.  Retrak also seeks to help build the capacity of local organisations, working in tandem with local partners on topics of Family Reintegration and Monitoring and Evaluation. Retrak can be seen to work beyond the national level, sharing valuable lessons learnt internationally through its dissemination of research findings through networks such as the Better Care Network, Child Protection in Crisis working group, Family for every child and the Consortium for Street Children.  As a leading figure in global advocacy on Family Reintegration, 2015 saw Retrak become a key member of the Global Agency on Family Reintegration. This relationship has led to the agency’s use of Retrak’s Standard Operating Procedures to create global guidelines on reintegration. 

Retrak’s medical provision consists of key activities that will improve the health and hygiene of street children, build trust and relationships, and introduce the children to Retrak’s work. The Health Care programme consists broadly of regular health-checks, referrals to specialists for more complex cases and ailments, treatments, and HIV counselling and treatment.  

What’s the Problem?

There is an estimated 6,000 children living unaccompanied on the streets of Kampala, Uganda. Increasing poverty, limited resources, natural disasters and HIV are all factors which affect family breakdown and drive children to the streets. Street children are amongst the most vulnerable children in the world. They have often suffered abuse and are likely to suffer further trauma, especially as they lack many of the coping mechanisms necessary to establish a safe and secure life.

Lack of education, financial resources and social networks hinders the children to seek medical help when they need it, which is why Retrak provides freely available medical help in their outreach work and open clinics, and regular health checks for the children at the centres. Good health is the foundation for children to live up to their potential of happy and self-reliant lives.

By providing street children with essential medical support and treatment through our outreach activities Retrak aims to initiate their relationship with Retrak. Our overall goal is to help them make the transition from street life back to their families and communities through long term education and reintegration programmes. In doing this Retrak helps protect vulnerable street children from sexual abuse, violence, gang crime, exposure to drugs and susceptibility to disease.

Retrak has a strong track record of delivering a wide range of services.

  • Enumeration of children separated from family care - Creating a strong evidence base of children separated from family care to inform public policy and programming
  • Advocacy – Promoting systems change for children and families at a local, national and international level
  • Research and Learning - Using programmatic practice to inform and contribute to research and learning in the child protection sector 
  • Family Reintegration - Returning children to a safe and caring family environment
  • Deinstitutionalisation- Working with Governments to end their reliance on institutional care and supporting them to raise children back to a safe and caring family environment
  • Child Protection – Protecting children from violence, abuse and neglect through the training, educating and promoting of child safeguarding practice to government, police and local NGO partners
  • Child Trafficking - Identifying, rescuing and protecting children who have been, or are at risk of  trafficking
  • Modern Slavery - Identifying, rescuing and protecting children in slavery, domestic servitude, forced labour and early marriage
  • Juvenile Justice & Human Rights - Protecting and supporting children impacted by street round ups, held in detention centres and caught-up in the criminal justice system
  • Prevention of family-child separation – Strengthening families and communities by providing parenting skills training, psycho-social and economic development (income generation assistance and self-help groups)
  • Street Outreach – Providing children on the streets with new choices by building trusting relationships with them

Transitional support for children separated from family care – Provision of temporary care including shelter, food & nutrition

Children coming into our three transition centres are subject to an individual medical, psychological and educational assessment and from this a care plan is developed. Where there is evidence a child has been a victim of crime the police are involved to gather evidence.  Specialist counselling takes place to deal with issues of trauma and to explore the issues which led to the child ending up on the street or in an abusive situation.  Wherever possible, children are prepared for a return to a safe family life. Family tracing is carried out and once a family member is identified the issues leading to the separation of the child are explored and dealt with. When it is established that a safe and successful reintegration can be achieved, arrangements will be put in place to ensure the child can return to education and the family supported locally.  Follow up contact is maintained for the next two years to ensure that the reintegration has been successful. Where the child cannot be safely reintegrated with a member of their immediate or extended family other options such as foster care or independent living are explored.

The world is experiencing the biggest mass movement of people it has ever seen driven by the extremes of climate change, economic recession, civil conflict and weaknesses in the rural economy. Children moving to cities to live on the street are part of that movement.  Young people who make those journeys are vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, trafficking and being coerced into forced labour or commercial sex work. They lose out on education and on life chances and suffer trauma which can affect them for the rest of their lives.

In Uganda, our team frequently work with children who were sent or trafficked to Kampala to work as house servants or in other forms of forced labour. Many are emotionally, physically and sexually abused and have no option but to flee to the street. Retrak conduct regular outreach visits to areas frequented by these vulnerable children in order to offer our services and also receive referrals from the police. Our experience shows that adolescent girls are often targeted by traffickers offering employment in Middle Eastern countries which turn out to be abusive situations including forced commercial sex work. Other children are on the street following an escape from poor family circumstances including sexual and physical abuse or are abandoned by parents or other family members.

Combating the criminal activities of traffickers, and the economic and social forces which support them, is a global problem. States, including Uganda, are struggling to meet the needs of victims of modern slavery and trafficking, particularly children who are often traumatised and fearful. Police and criminal justice systems are struggling to gather evidence to achieve prosecutions, especially when the victims and their families are vulnerable to intimidation and violence. There is also a need for greater awareness of the issue of modern slavery and trafficking so that communities are empowered to recognise the dangers of encouraging children to leave their family in search of education and employment opportunities.

Retrak already works closely with the Ministry of Gender, KCCA and Uganda Police to care for girls found on the street at its Bulamu centre.  Girls are mostly referred by police officers and social workers but with a limited capacity of just 25 places, there is a serious need for more provision.

Retrak is working to create a centre for girl victims of trafficking and modern slavery and for girls forced to live on the street. It would offer a safe place where girls would receive all critical services on one site, streamlining their care and minimising further trauma.  Food, shelter education, medical care, counselling for their trauma would help them overcome what has happened. It is also important that the centre has facilities for onsite medical examination and evidence gathering by the police as part of a co-ordinated effort to offer better support for victims.

We also want to equip the children for their future by preparing them for reintegration and return back to a safe, caring family life. Where this is not in the child’s best interests we facilitate independent living by offering vocational skills training. All children have the opportunity at our centres to gain the skills that will enable them to find dignified work in the community. It would also include facilities for medical examination and evidence gathering by the police and coordination of effort between the various state and local agencies and NGOs.

Retrak employs 48 staff in Uganda, all local people.  The country director is Florence Soyekwo who can be contacted on Florence.soyekwo@retrak.org