Following the recent tragic Bijie incident, three discussion panels have been held by the social enterprise Yuan En Space focusing on how different actors in China can join forces to help left-behind children.
The panels all concluded that the issue of left-behind children is a complex problem with various perspectives and that the flexibility and diversity of NGO’s makes them an important part of the solution. However, many participants suggested that existing NGO work emphasizes materials rather than service. The strategies of NGOs are also not clear and their capacities can be weak.
At one panel psychology professor Heming Wu suggested that it is not certain that left-behind children will become troubled kids. What is important is they must have a constant and close relationship with parents so that they can establish self-respect. Several NGOs have tried to repair the relationship by setting up hubs for students to Skype with parents. Chao Lai, the director of Western Sunshine, points out that many children do not necessarily want to Skype with parents. Some senior students experience uncomfortable for days after they Skyped.Shuang Du, the director of NGO Growing Home, suggested that children are alienated with their parents in the first place. Phone calls and videos would only making things worse.
Some NGOs have shifted their focus to mental health consultation. They have tried to train teachers in rural areas to consult with children. Yet Shuang Du finds that these teachers suffer from mental health problems themselves. They are not capable of taking the role as consultants for someone else.
At the panels some organizations have tried to solve problems by improving community development. The Ministry of Civil Affairs, UNICEF, and Beijing Normal University are running pilot programs of “Children Welfare Director” in 120 villages. The program is facing many problems, for example the duty of the Directors overlaps with other positions and they also lack power to mobilize resources and a supportive network.
The Director of the Foundation Center attended one of the panels and pointed out that many programs only focus on children rather than their relationship with school and parents. They believed that social workers should assist families in taking over the role of caring for children and that social workers should not act as family members.
Fan Zhang, the Director of Hunan Wispring Foundation, suggests the current tendency of valuing money rather than children is not healthy. To rectify this in such period of economic growth, NGOs should put more attention on educating parents rather than only children.
The President of Yuan’en Space concluded that the biggest problem with all the efforts of NGOs is the lack of professional staff and resources. He stated that it is also important to making government aware of what they are doing to allow government to cooperate in solving the problems facing left-behind children.