From the first day of WAIC’s existence, we have grappled with one key question: what would it take to ensure a caring and safe family for every vulnerable child? UNICEF State of the World’s Children Report 2016 pegs the number of orphaned and abandoned children in India at 30 Million. The number of children in India’s child shelters range from 0.25 to 0.5 Million, yet the number of children in the legal adoption pool nationally at any point is barely 2000. Once vulnerable children reach the child shelters, their movement through the child protection mechanism to reach a positive outcome (including the legal adoption pool) is not guaranteed.
Child protection mechanism across 700+ districts in India is a complex and distributed system with excessive dependence on manual processes and human diligence, which can result in children falling through the cracks and languishing in shelters, instead of getting a chance to reach their forever family. Dynamic and scalable technology solutions are needed to make the children visible, track their status, trigger their movement, and assist the local authorities in making decisions in the best interest of the child.
With the support of WCD Pune and SARA Maharashtra, we conducted a study of select Child Care Institutions (CCIs aka shelters) and Specialised Adoption Agencies (SAAs) in Pune district to deeply understand their workflows, processes, data usage, and stakeholders, and produce a report on systemic gaps and corresponding technology recommendations to plug those gaps. Through the study, we also found systemic gaps that need process, legislative, mindset, and capacity changes, which we have included in this report along with technology recommendations.
Following is a summary of key high-level findings from the study:
- India does not have an adoption mindset. ‘Right to family’ for a child is not widely understood. Identifying and moving eligible children through an adoption inquiry is high effort but keeping the child continuously in a shelter is low effort, leading to the latter being the default preference. Many child shelters acknowledge that children want families yet have a huge inertia in exploring the path of making the children legally adoptable.
- Decisions for children are made by a complex human-dependent system, with human competence, biases, opinions, bandwidth, and preferences influencing the decisions. Lack of easily available guidance, verified data, and tools at each step causes inconsistencies in the child’s movement through the system.
- Legislative and process gaps leave room for individual interpretation and judgement in each child’s case.
- There is no unique auto-verifiable child identity mechanism across all the institutions and stakeholders in the child protection mechanism.
- Existence of a family, parents or relatives, is deemed enough for a child to spend the entire childhood in a shelter. No expectations or visitation requirements are placed on the family, and no next step is defined for children whose family will never raise them.
Though the study was conducted in the Pune district, it is applicable to all districts in India. We have focused on on-ground processes which are common across the country in the child protection mechanism.