Globally and in Kenya, children and youth leave their homes to make a life in the streets primarily because of poverty, family dysfunction, and child abuse, among other reasons. Once on the streets, young people are subject to harsh living conditions, and must often engage in substance use, survival sex and other means to survive. As a result, some young people do not return home, and in many cases have children of their own and raise them on the streets. With frequent violence experienced among the street community, children raised on the streets risk being caught in a cycle of intergenerational violence; one of the very reasons that lead young people to the streets to begin with.
In Eldoret, Kenya, young people in street situations experience severe physical and sexual violence, particularly women and girls. As such, many have children of their own and raise them on the streets. These children are at high risk of experiencing violence.
In 2018, our team at the University of Toronto, Moi University, AMPATH Kenya, the University of Oxford, and many other partners in Kenya, adapted the Parenting for Lifelong Health for Young Children with and for street-connected mothers (adapted title, Malezi Bora na Maisha Mazuri: “Good Parenting for a Good Life”). This 12-session programme used collaborative problem solving, role plays, story-telling, and other participatory and play-based activities to help strengthen the mother-child relationship, reduce parental stress, and encourage positive, non-violence discipline strategies. Importantly, it recognised and celebrated the tremendous strength and resilience that these mothers display each and every day.
While the programme was a success, mothers themselves suggested they are only one half of the equation. We know that engaging fathers in parenting can serve as a protective factor against child maltreatment, improve child developmental outcomes, and strengthen the co-parental relationship between caregivers. It is also an opportunity to challenge harmful gender norms that create and uphold gender inequities, often associated with intimate partner violence. What we don’t know is how best to tailor the programme so that it responds to the needs and preferences of both mothers and fathers, to ensure that it is feasible, safe, effective, and sustainable.
Using a multi-phase community-based participatory action research approach, this project aims to refine the Malezi Bora programme to engage both mothers and fathers, so that it can reduce violence against children and violence against women, and better support the wellbeing of parents and families who are in street situations.
With the meaningful, active, and ongoing participation of the street-community in Eldoret, the specific research activities to be undertaken include the following four phases:
(1) Phase 1: A systematic review of the qualitative literature to understand the barriers and facilitators to male engagement in parenting programmes for low-income families globally;
(2) Phase 2: Qualitative interviews with street-connected fathers and mothers in Eldoret, Kenya, to explore the gendered perceptions, practices, strengths, and needs of street- connected parents, and how the next iteration of the Malezi Bora program can benefit the family unit as a whole;
(3) Phase 3: Qualitative interviews with local health and social service providers who work with the street community in Eldoret, to uncover important content considerations for engaging male caregivers in the Malezi Bora programme; and
(4) Phase 4: Further adaptations of the Malezi Bora programme for the inclusion of street- connected mothers and fathers with and for the street community in Eldoret, including making it more gender responsive and transformative.