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CLAUDIA CABRAL

Brazil,

As a psychologist with a life-long drive to assist the huge numbers of children in living in Brazil’s shelters and streets and suffering from domestic violence, Claudia Cabral has developed a methodology to either re-integrate children back into their families or create a network of people and services to support the children. Claudia has introduced an emphasis on the importance of family in youth development to government, civil society agencies, and related organizations.

This profile below was prepared when Claudia Cabral was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2007.

INTRODUCTION

As a psychologist with a life-long drive to assist the huge numbers of children in living in Brazil’s shelters and streets and suffering from domestic violence, Claudia Cabral has developed a methodology to either re-integrate children back into their families or create a network of people and services to support the children. Claudia has introduced an emphasis on the importance of family in youth development to government, civil society agencies, and related organizations.




THE NEW IDEA

Claudia builds networks of care for children and adolescents who leave their homes due to domestic violence or other circumstances. By connecting existing extended family members and community resources to each individual child suffering from human rights violation, Claudia fills the gaps, encouraging extended and foster families to become responsible for the child. Engaging the families themselves in creating these solutions is the first step in Claudia’s objective: Re-integrating children back into their families and communities. In cases where children must be temporarily separated from their families Claudia promotes an alternative that is still based on the family unit: the foster family.  She also works to improve shelter care for children with no other options. 

By focusing on the family as the basic unit of action, Claudia promotes systematic change at different levels: Using the families as the primary agents of change; supporting families to raise their children by connecting them to a network of services; training professionals in the field to focus their efforts on family reunification and creating political and legal patterns that encourage children and adolescents to stay permanently at home. 

Claudia is spreading her methodology by training social and government workers throughout the country. She is also working to shift political and legal structures to prioritize the family in child support programs, evidenced by the fact that these methods have become public policy in Rio de Janeiro and some other cities. She is replicating her idea across Brazil and Latin America. 




THE PROBLEM

Brazil’s Statute of the Child and Adolescent (ECA) is one of the most advanced in the world, recognizing the importance of the family in the full development of children. Yet the law does not take into account the difficult socioeconomic conditions that create challenges for low-income families in raising and educating their children. The assumption in the public system is that families are incapable and unqualified to raise their children, and the intervention is to put children into state custody. As a result, many children are removed from their families, breaking relationships that are essential for their development.

According to the Institute of Applied Economic Research (2003), there are over 20,000 children and adolescents living in shelters in Brazil. Yet this number refers only to shelters receiving federal funds—the actual figure is much higher: It is more likely that approximately 80,000 children and adolescents live in Brazilian shelters. According to a study by the World Counsel of Rights of Children and Adolescents and Terra dos Homens, in Rio de Janeiro alone, there are 2,200 children living in shelters, 42 percent of whom have been in shelters for over two years. 

In 2006, the National Council on Children and Adolescents Rights (CONANDA) and the National Social Assistance Council (CNAS) created a national plan for the guarantee, defense, and right to family and community life. This plan establishes basic parameters of special protection for children and adolescents lacking parental care: The foster family program and institutional care, or shelters, and “passage centers.” However, the public network of assistance is still largely based on a fragmented approach that is not based on family relationships. For children in shelters to fully develop as persons, the importance and connection to their families must be recognized.




THE STRATEGY

The underlying mission behind Claudia’s strategy is promoting the importance of the family in child development throughout efforts to support children separated from their families. She implements her strategy through her organization, Associação Brasileira Terra dos Homens (ABTH). The foundation of her work lies in direct individual assistance to children (com direitos violados) in Rio de Janeiro: Claudia has created a socio-therapeutic methodology to work with splintered families to reintegrate children into families or foster families. She complements this on-the-ground work with programs to train government and civil society professionals to replicate her methodology throughout Brazil. Claudia is also shifting the focus of political, judicial, and legal structures around the problem to incorporate a family-centered approach in existing solutions.

Claudia’s methodology works primarily by building and strengthening a family support structure for each individual unprotected child. The Terra dos Homens team works in partnership with the Rio de Janeiro Public Oversight Council and child and adolescent rights guarantee system actors such as: government, judges, prosecutors, public defendants, councils, CSO forums, amongst others, to implement this methodology. The methodology begins by entering the family and community of the child to fully understand the reality and context of his/her life. To do this, Claudia has pioneered the application of two tools from the discipline of family therapy: The “Genogram” and the “Ecomap.”

The Genogram is a pictorial display of the entire extended family and its relationships, with the goal of identifying possible family members who fill the roles and responsibilities of absent family members. The Genogram’s strength is in its understanding of the individuality of each different case and its particular needs. The Ecomap constructs a map of the network of relationships outside the family, such as community actors who could help in resolving conflicts or protecting children from abuses and also enabling to know and access basic services, which very often doesn’t happen. By asking families themselves to create these maps, Claudia encourages them to begin finding solutions to their own problems. One of Claudia’s central beliefs is that if the family takes on the role of protecting its members, government no longer needs to intervene. 

By using these tools and working intensively with the families, Claudia reintegrates children into their families, with clearly defined support systems in place. Terra dos Homens has a team of social workers and psychologists who coordinate a network of local services for the children, including hospitals, schools, neighborhood associations, the judicial system, and specialized therapy visits. Terra dos Homens assists a minimum of 100 children per year.

If the child or adolescent cannot be immediately reintegrated into their family, Claudia proposes an alternative solution that is still based on the family unit: The foster family. These substitute families care for the children and help them maintain contact with their original families so that they might have the possibility to return. For children who need to go to shelters in emergency situations, Terra dos Homens also works on shelter support systems, implementing a number of services that are geared towards handling each child according to his or her individual needs. To improve shelter care, Terra dos Homens works with key actors such as executive and judiciary governments, public care counsels, social organizations, defense centers, and legislative commissions. More than 9,200 children and adolescents have directly benefited from Terra dos Homens assistance.

Terra dos Homens also runs programs to train social workers across the country in this methodology, where sessions are adapted to local contexts. On average, two workshops are conducted each month in different Brazilian states. To date, more than 11,500 social workers across Brazil have been trained. Terra dos Homens also runs interactive and participative workshops with public counsels, Youth Offices, and District Attorney’s offices.

Terra dos Homens works to change judicial, legal, and political structures to spread the idea that an investment in the family is the best option to protect children and adolescents who suffer abuse.  Claudia coordinates a national network of regional hubs in ten states, expanding to the whole country to promote this idea. She has selected, with the support of UNICEF, strategic partners in government and civil society to create working groups to invest in and promote alternatives to institutionalizing children and adolescents, such as family reintegration and foster families. Both the national network and the working groups have been engaging the Ministry of Social Development, the Secretariat of Human Rights of the Presidency, local municipal governments, representatives of the District Attorney’s office, the judiciary, private sector institutes and foundations, and social organizations. 

Claudia represents Brazil in seminars and international fora throughout Latin America. She has developed training materials for the government of Peru and wants to create a Latin American network of reference hubs around her idea. Claudia’s plan is to find partners who want to attack the root of the problem of children in shelters by investing in community grassroots programs, fighting poverty, and promoting the inclusion of families in the sectors of education, health, work and income, and culture and leisure. Claudia has already begun discussions with potential partners in Argentina, Peru, Paraguay, and Chile.




THE PERSON

Claudia spent her childhood and adolescence living with her grandmother, the president of an organization which sheltered more than 3,000 children. Her grandmother’s work affected Claudia deeply, leading her to study psychology in university and later work for the same organization. Claudia was stricken by the suffering of the children from being separated from their families’ and she began to study the importance of family ties and relationships in child development.

Claudia left Brazil in 1980 to spend three years in France studying the European system of assistance to children separated from their families. She was impressed by the success of the prevalent methodology, which included the entire family in the process of deciding children’s futures. Returning to Brazil, Claudia was also influenced by the psychological model of family therapy. 

In 1985, Claudia was asked by the Swiss Fondation Terra des Homme to coordinate a program on international adoption. It was a challenge for her. At the time, only 10 percent of Brazilian children in shelters could be adopted, and of this, a mere three percent were cleared for international adoption. In the adoption process, two problems were common: The exclusion of problem children and the preference for young, white children. Claudia’s solution was to introduce a national adoption program to be undertaken by the Foundation, creating a culture of local, national adoptions in Brazil.

After she began to see a growing number of national adoptions, Claudia turned her focus toward the fundamental problem of children in domestic violence situation, separated or about to be separated from their families: How to offer them the family relationships they need to fully develop as persons? To expand her activities and have more independence, in 1996 Claudia created Terra dos Homens in Brazil, an independent organization with a strategic partnership with Fondation Terra des Homme.

In addition to running Terra dos Homens, Claudia coordinates the working group Pro Family and Community Life in partnership with UNICEF. She is a consultant for the International Social Service, and a member of different international networks such as the Advisory Group of Better Care Network of the United Nations, International Foster Care, and the Rede Latino-Americana de Acolhimento Familiar.




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