The majority of institutional care centers and orphanages in Battambang province lack resources and policies needed in order to properly reintegrate children with their families or communities, according to a forthcoming report by Duke University researchers.
In 2012, a study by Unicef and the Ministry of Social Affairs found that only 23 percent of children who lived in residential care institutions, which are often misleadingly called orphanages, were actually orphans. The government has since said that reintegrating non-orphans into their families, or at least communities, is a priority.
But researchers from Duke University were unable find a single case of proper reintegration in Battambang province and said many hurdles remained in spite of the government’s stated commitment.
“We found that currently, although reintegration is a priority in Battambang…many institutions do not have a concrete plan to carry this out. Out of the  institutions we interviewed, only five had procedures and policies to do so,” said Grace Zhou, the lead researcher on the project.
Ideally, only children who could not live with their families, extended families or community for security reasons would be placed in residential care centers.
However, despite the number of orphans remaining consistent over the past decade, the number of orphanages increased in Battambang City from 11 in 2005 to 42 as of 2012. Nationwide, the number of orphanages increased by 75 percent during that time.
The 2012 study found that 99 percent of parents cited better education as a reason to place their children in orphanages, and 47 percent cited general poverty.
Kim Teng, director of Battambang’s social affairs department, said reintegrating children remained a vital goal.
“The reintegration program is very important because the children…are happy to be back in their community and to see their relatives,” he said.
However, the Duke University research found that in only 20 percent of residential care centers did both the director and the social worker agree that their reintegration process was successful.
In a number of cases, reintegration only occurred when a child threatened to run away from a care center, or when the family demanded to have the child back to generate income.
Institutions, Ms. Zhou said, needed to have in place better reintegration policies that start as soon as a child is taken in.
“The first thing is to create a plan for reintegration, including finding the family and extended family, assessing their situation and making a plan for returning the child home,” she said.
The local NGO Komar Rikreay, which works with Unicef, has successfully reintegrated children with their families for more than 10 years, executive director Prom Kimchheng said.
“We have improved the reintegration policy every year. It always depends on the family situation, but when we get a child, a case manager interviews them about their background and their family, and after, the case managers visit the family,” Ms. Kimchheng said.
In 2013, she said, Komar Rikreay reintegrated about 10 children from poor and vulnerable families, or children whose parents had been in prison.
“It’s very difficult, because the process depends so much on the situation of the family, and you need a smart case manager who can really tell which solution is the best,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)
© 2014, Denise Hruby. All rights reserved.