When you first encounter a child living on the streets face-to-face, one thing is immediately clear: this is a child without a childhood. No two children living on the streets are alike, but their stories have common threads: violence, loss, sexual abuse, abandonment. And, after all of that, after a day or a month or a year on the streets: hopelessness.
Our founding vision was to restore childhood to those from whom it has been unceremoniously stolen. We do this most effectively through our residential program. One of the defining characteristics of our residential program is that our homes are just that-- homes, not wards or institutions. Each child has personal space in a bedroom shared with only one or two other children, and common spaces-- a living room, family room, kitchen, dedicated homework area-- that allow them to live and work together as a family. Our children have personal possessions, like blankets, backpacks, clothing, shoes, and toys, from the first day they enter our homes. While we may take these things for granted, it is unfortunately all too common that other organizations do not provide these basics, instead forcing children to "earn" such items, even the luxury of sleeping on a mattress instead of a bare floor, through weeks- or months-long good behavior programs. At Kaya, a child who enters our program with only the clothes on his back immediately becomes part of a family, and is treated the way each one of us would want our own child to be treated from Day 1.
Kaya's residential program is divided into 3 distinct phases: transition off the streets, long-term residency in a permanent home, and transition to independence or family reunification. Each phase of the program serves a distinct purpose with specific, measurable goals. Individualized service plans guide each child's progress through these phases and, whenever possible, focus on reintegrating each child with their family of origin. Specially trained house parents care for the children in each of our homes. In addition, children participate in programs and receive services according to their needs through the Kaya Center. Currently Kaya only provides residential care for boys, however a girls program is in our vision and dreams for our future.
Children coming off of the streets first enter our transition home, where they receive intensive services in a highly supportive and structured environment. Specific topics that are addressed during this phase include: drug abuse, anger management, emotion regulation, depression and anxiety, self-esteem, conflict resolution, and coping strategies. Consistent routines help children adjust to regular wake-sleep and eating schedules. The goal for children in this stage is to work toward reunification with their families or prepare to enter one of our permanent homes. Children are also prepared to begin or restart formal schooling.
In our permanent homes, children live in families with house parents. Each home houses no more than 10 children and operates like a typical family home, with a healthy balance of structure and freedom. Children have age-appropriate chores and responsibilities to help them learn important life skills, and they also enjoy family games, celebrations, and meals together. Living as families serves two main purposes. First, it fulfills the basic human need for a place to belong and offers the children a second chance at building familial relationships. And second, it serves as a model of a functional family, providing our children with a first-hand understanding of what it takes to build a healthy home.
Our residential program does not have a fixed end-point for all children. Unlike other organizations operating in La Paz, children never "age out" of our homes and are never "blacklisted" from our program. The ultimate goal of our residential program is to either prepare a child for healthy, sustainable, and independent living as an adult or to heal their family of origin and facilitate family reunification. The path towards these goals is different for every child and family. The Transition-to-Independence Program is customized to each child's situation and is guided by an individual plan with particular goals and success indicators. While still in high school, children participate in workshops to develop important life skills and work with their counselors to develop detailed plans for their futures. As they graduate from high school, these young adults receive continued support in the form of financial help, independent living quarters, and the continued guidance of a counselor as they go through vocational training, higher education in a local college, or take on internships or full-time jobs. When they are ready to live fully independently, they finish the transition out from under Kaya's formal supervision, though they remain a part of the Kaya Family forever and continue to interact with our staff and their "brothers" informally.
Kaya works hard to return children to their families of origin whenever possible. Each child in our residential program is fully interviewed by a member of our social services team and every effort is made to locate any family member who may be able to properly care for the child. We evaluate the safety of the home environment, the feasibility of reunification, and the likelihood of long-term success if reunification does take place. When a possible option for reunification with family is identified, Kaya creates an individualized plan, including support through the Kaya Center and Warmi Kaya, to help families heal traumas, create a safe and sustainable environment, and return children home to their families.