Residential childcare: the experiences of young people in Bangladesh
Islam, Md. Tuhinul
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Residential childcare has had an image which, at the very least, is not a positive one. It has been blamed for weakening family links and leading to poor educational and health outcomes for children (Biehal et al. 1995; Mendes and Moslehuddin 2004; Stein 2002). However, children and young people enter residential care institutions for a variety of reasons, and by examining the experiences of children and young people in Bangladesh, we can see that residential childcare has the potential to offer a positive option for many disadvantaged children and young people. UNICEF estimates that there are more than 49,000 children in residential care in Bangladesh (UNICEF 2008), but this figure fails to include thousands of children who live in madrasahs. There is neither a uniform childcare policy nor formal aftercare support provision in Bangladesh; instead, the government, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and madrasahs all have their own approaches and methods and there has been no research conducted on young people in and after care. The aim of this study was to explore the experiences of residential care from the perspectives of a group of young people who had lived in residential childcare institutions in Bangladesh with a view to making improvements in residential childcare in the future. Qualitative methods were employed for data collection, using in-depth semi-structured interviews with 33 young people (aged between 12 and 26) who had left the care system and observation of the four institutions where they had lived: one run by an NGO, two run by the government and one madrasah run by the religious community. All of the fieldwork was conducted and transcribed in Bangla. The findings of this study show that young people had mixed feelings about their lives in care, preparation for leaving care, and aftercare support; moreover, their experiences were diverse. Overall, most said that they had benefited from being in care and the institution had had a largely positive impact on their lives. However, the experience for those who had been evicted was much less favourable; these young people suffered a range of hardships after leaving care. The findings also show that there was a connection between the in-care experience and the success of a young person in the outside world. The type of institution, its culture, systems and practices, the amount of care received and socio-cultural-religious influences all played a part. The research further indicated that although some young people developed a measure of resilience to face the problems of their everyday lives, they were not fully able to overcome them due to societal discrimination. Those who did best where those who had developed positive attachments with at least one trusted adult, who acted as a mentor and strengthened their commitment and self-motivation. The findings demonstrate that aftercare support varied from institution to institution, but overall, was informal in nature. The study concludes by setting out implications for building better residential childcare policy and practice in Bangladesh. It identifies a number of avenues for further research, suggesting that lessons for the minority world may be learned from this study, namely the notion that the whole community should take responsibility for its children; and attention should be paid to faith and religious beliefs in children’s upbringing. The study has also demonstrated that improving financial resources may not necessarily lead to better outcomes from children and young people. Instead, building relationships with adults, peer groups, parents, and community offer the best chance for good outcomes.