Nico (not his real name) was ten years old when he realized he could no longer take care of his little brother. At four years old, his little brother was more than he could handle.
For as long as Nico could recall, he was the sole parent for his little brother. Taking care of him was like taking care of his own son. And, for most of that time - Nico knew what to do. Now, at four years old - Nico didn't know what to do.
A kind neighbor had always been there for Nico and his brother. She would feed them when his mother left for long periods and did not provide any money for food. She would check-in on them, making sure they were safe and warm in the cold rainy months. Now, she noticed something very different - and she went to the local judiciary to file a report of child endangerment.
That was the day Nico and his little brother came to live at the Casa Girasoles. From the very first day - Nico talked about how much he wanted to go home. He talked about how much he wanted to be with his mother. He knew of her "sickness" and the changes that would happen when she was drinking - but he also knew she was their mother, and he wanted more than anything else to be loved by her.
Nico started running away about a month after arriving at the Casa Girasoles. The first couple of times he ran-away, the staff would find him walking down the road attempting to hike his way home. He pleaded with them to let him go - and the staff would explain that Nico and his brother had been placed in our care and we had a responsibility to keep them safe and well.
One day Nico ran away - this time, it was not the same. The staff couldn't find him anywhere. A few hours quickly turned into a whole day - with no word of Nico's whereabouts. Finally, after filing a report with the local courts, the police found Nico at his mother's home (a small four wall hut with a dirt floor and open-pit fire). She was drunk and rambling on about letting him stay or go or whatever he wanted to do. Nico cried with the police and our staff to let him stay with his mother.
Nico ran-away again, about a month ago. He ran-away during the pandemic, and the police and courts said there was nothing they could do to bring him back to the Casa Girasoles. They said he would need to stay with his mother until the quarantine ended.
We don't know how Nico is doing. We've tried to visit, but no one is every around. The neighbor tells us she is worried; and, the mother is drinking more and more.
The pandemic is making everything harder. It has made the child welfare sector even more challenging. It has, however, taught us a critical lesson - we must be developing programs and projects that work with the total needs of the children we serve. We need to build models of care that learn from and are led by the voices and experiences of children like Nico. We must do more than respond to a challenge or problem - we must build a bridge to the future.
Join us - lets build a care delivery model that will help Nico and his mother find the lives they deserve, and the hope they need.
The HBI Blog is a rotating journal from our staff. Our Blog is a series of messages from the field, insights from our work, and lessons in service.