A foundational premise of the Initiative for Children at Risk Africa is that every African orphan needs and deserves a loving caregiver, who will anchor the child in secure attachment, which gives the child a sense of belonging, being loved, being “felt”, and being secure. When this need is met, children who have experienced even severe loss and trauma are often able to heal. This reduces their ‘at risk” status by providing for their fundamental need.
So what will help orphaned and vulnerable children be securely attached to caregivers? Patrice has developed caregiver training, with the goal of equipping caregivers to build attachment security with children in their care, enabling the children to grow and thrive emotionally. Caregiver training has been documented in the existing research into the psychological health of orphans and vulnerable children as a very significant need, currently unmet. The training focuses on enabling African caregivers to better understand child development, the needs of OVC’s who have suffered loss and trauma, and how that severely damages normal development, and focuses on caregiving and interventions that can help children address their social and emotional needs once placed at risk. In one study,
[orphans] spoke of wishing that the orphanage staff would not respond so harshly to the orphans. The feeling of wanting to be cared for and to belong was very strong.
— Morantz and Heymann, 2010
In the past several years, Patrice has begun training caregivers in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Rwanda. Training takes place in groups of caregivers from various orphanages and children’s homes, street children’s projects, and community caregiving organizations. Headmasters and teachers have also been part of some of the trainings. African participants in the training have largely responded with enthusiasm and deep appreciation for their deepened understanding of the needs of the OVCs in their care.
Caregivers and staff responses to the training bring out a deep sense of “this is what is needed” in the care of orphans and vulnerable children. Taking an attachment paradigm means training adults currently involved with children—as program directors, orphanage staff, mamas and “babas” who provide direct care—to provide nurturing, accepting, empathic and playful interactions with the children, in order to build their sense of security, belonging, and being loved. Caregivers often report that they themselves “grew up wounded” or “suffered in silence” when no one understood or seemed to care about their suffering. Often there is healing that takes place in the caregivers as they see themselves as wounded children and understand better the woundedness of the children in their programs.