Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Our lost gem is now found

Many of you comment on how healthy and happy our children look when you see their pictures on the website and the blog.
They look like any other well-fed, cherished, little beings as they play and learn together at the Happy House.
But they have, each one of them, come to us in a very poor state - hungry, poorly, frightened and dirty.
Some have been beaten or abused,  fending for themselves, abandoned or bereaved.
Working at the Happy House is far from easy. It can be excruciatingly difficult and worrying as has been the case over the past few weeks with one of our girls.
As Kenyan law requires, we do keep in contact with any blood relatives our children may have and also allow, again as required, home visits when it is considered safe to do so. But they do not always work out as they should and in this most recent case, we have had great difficulty getting the child, who came to us from a rescue centre and is committed through the courts to our care, returned to her Happy House family.
Social worker Billy, who has worked in this field for 15 years, explains what happened: "As a matter of policy and as a best practise, we value keeping the family contacts between our kids and their relatives, but this time this well-meant gesture put us on a rollercoaster of worry.
On August 11 we had a meeting with relatives of children and after good deliberations of how best to join hands in making a difference in the lives of the kids through full participation by all interested parties,some felt that they would like to sign their kids out for a week's stay since it was school holidays,
One of our girls was released to the mother against the grandmom's identity card, since she iss the one best known to all of us. The biological mom had re-surfaced after her daughter has been at the Happy House for 17 months!
There were no known relatives during her admission as she was a case referred from a rehabilitation centre 110kms away. Her committal order was made from there and put her in our custody until she is 18 - the rules have been recently revised to three years at a time. She was signed out on August 18 for one week.
The following day I started two weeks leave.
To our dismay, she was never returned as agreed.
Mama Sue and Aunty Rose were immediately on the case but kept receiving false promises of a return on a tomorrow which never came.
A week later, the mum turned up, without the child, reporting that she was down with pneumonia and hence unable to come back home.
Before even giving a proper explanation, she vanished out of the compound
I had to be involved despite being away since the matter was getting more severe by the minute. I made a few calls to the aunty (who lives locally) who later led me to the mom whereby I pleaded with them to go and obtain an extension of the stay since they were now citing the Festival of Eid as the limiting factor.....never mind that all this time we didn't have a clue of the kid's whereabouts and no one offered to say where on earth she was! She is only seven for crying out loud!
At this point we had to involve the Children's Officer in charge. During our phone discussion, he offered that the family had previously visited his office saying that they were now capable of taking care of their child. Apparently he had advised them to first honour the existing agreement by first bringing her back and subsequently making a fresh application for exit.
According to the recent developments, they would have none of that.
We had no choice but to go full throttle, going back to the Children's Officer with a letter of complaint; copies of all relevant documentation attached. When he saw the gravity of the matter he advised us to liaise with the police who would help in reclaiming the child since the committal order was clear that she was under our legal care
This led us to the Watamu Police Station, who offered full support firstly by trying to negotiate with the relatives for an amicable solution. The mum had turned her phone off from the time the Children's Officer had tried to call and this time it was the girl's aunt who took a call and pledged her support for us, angry that the mother and daughter had left her house late at night without saying a word. We were given a letter from Watamu Police to take to the police in Malindi as this is where they were now thought to be.
With two officers from Malindi Police, Mama and I went door to door in strange environs in search of our loved one.
After a frantic search, we found her in a slum with her mom and younger brother (less than a year old) plus other relatives in a single room with a mattress spread in the middle of the room and with no other furniture in sight. Cooking was done out in the open air.
Our main aim was to take her home and on seeing Mama and I she was overjoyed and went straight into her arms hugging her lovingly.
She had surely longed to be with her Happy House family.
There was a lot of defence coming from the mom after falling out with the "aunt" but these were in the least of our worries. Once we got our little girl securely in the car, we called Papa Dave and the duty housemum to tell them we were headed home ... our lost gem now found.
When we hooted at the gate, all the kids were out in the side steps singing and dancing their "welcome" song to their returning sister. It was an emotional re-union.
Most important, our little girl is safe and glad to be back home.
This morning she was the happiest in the school assembly making us all feel a great sense of achievement. All the worry had been worthwhile."