Here’s what’s happening around the world in the area of child welfare and protection.
In May 2021, The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, a congregation of 80 Catholic Sisters living and working in Mexico, reached out to Maestral Senior Associate and Changing the Way We Care (CTWWC)* Technical Advisor, Sully Santos. Sister Celia, the Coordinator for Mission Development for the Congregation explained that because of the COVID pandemic, an internal reflection process, and recognition of the global movement towards family-based care, the Sisters were seeking to transition their five residential care facilities into family and community-based service providers; but they needed help.
In the first conversations with the Sisters, they recognized that despite all the years they had been providing residential care for girls, the root causes that resulted in the girls being in care were not being addressed. When COVID restrictions required that all children in residential care be sent home, the Sisters witnessed that even in families that were faced with economic challenges or were single-parent households, the girls were happy to be back home. This really made them think about what was best for children and consider their role in the future.
With financial support from Catholic Relief Services (CRS), CTWWC has been providing regular technical assistance to a core group of leaders within the congregation. This includes regular phone meetings, facilitating introductions to new funders, service providers and the Transforming Children’s Care Collaborative Platform. Perhaps most importantly, the development of trust between the two organizations and the individuals had been established and a shared vision developed. The technical support is unique from other projects as it operates less on structured deliverables and more on emotional needs involved in such a significant change. For the Sisters, making this shift is not just about changing how they care for children but most importantly, about how they practice their charism. Understanding this and intentionally slowing down and being present to the Sisters whilst they are on this journey has been an important lesson for the Maestral team supporting this work.
In the ten months of accompanying the Sisters on this journey, the changes have been significant. One former residential care facility is now a temporary shelter for women and young child migrants. A second has transitioned to a community-based center targeting marginalized and low-income communities. The other three are in various steps of the transition process, but all are committed to making the change. In February, the Sisters held a virtual meeting with more than two dozen Catholic providers of residential care in Guatemala resulting in at least one making a commitment to transition, with the help of CTWWC. Most recently, Sister Celia de Loera participated in a global webinar sharing the transition experience with participants from more than 30 countries. Closer to home they are also changing hearts and minds as another Catholic order of women religious operating in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, saw the changes occurring and asked how they could be part of this movement. As a result, CTWWC is now supporting the order to begin the transition of reintegrating fifty children back into families and finding another way in which to express their charism. CTWWC and the Sisters co-published a document, Walking at the Speed of Trust, in both English and Spanish, highlighting key lessons of this journey and providing simple guidance for others who are interested in supporting this type of work.
As one of the Sister’s so poignantly mentioned during a recent meeting, “our charism is not practiced or defined by a building but rather what we are called to do to best support the children and families in our community.” The Sisters have learned that there is a global movement of women religious that are transitioning from residential to family-based care and they want to be part of it. At this moment, it looks like they are not only are they part of it but are inspiring role models for others to emulate.
* Changing The Way We Care (CTWWC) is a Global Development Alliance funded by USAID, the MacArthur Foundation and the GHR Foundation, and implemented by Catholic Relief Services and Maestral International, along with other global, national and local partners working together to change the way we care for children around the world. Our principal global partners are Better Care Network, Lumos Foundation, and Faith to Action. As part of the global effort to prioritize family care, working with faith-based actors, including women religious, is an important part of this long-term vision of change.