For the initial set of rescued children, it was only after many months that we started looking for their families. Depressingly we learned that nearly all the children in our care were orphaned by the war and this situation took some years to work through. But there were usually grandparents, aunties, uncles and siblings who could be traced, and we managed to return nearly all the children to their natural families.
By far the best place for children to grow up is with their natural families and it really gives them confidence, a secure background and a strong feeling of belonging – something that was very absent when living on the streets.
Reuniting them with family members wasn’t an instant success as the first year there were many problems with children being able to settle – the shock of no longer having the three full meals a day they had had on the St George programme, and very poor family members not always prepared for the children did cause teething problems. We quickly learned that the families had to know exactly what the children had learned during their residential time with us and we introduced preparation days for the families to attend before they were reunited. This vastly improved the process and now reunification is very successful and smooth.
Back in 2005/2006 we were one of the few organisations that routinely searched out family members and reunited the children. As a result we now also trace families and reunify children on behalf of UNICEF and Sierra Leone Social Services as we have built up considerable skill, experience and reputation in this task.