Uruguay was the first Latin American country where Hermann Gmeiner's child welfare philosophy was put into practice. The national Uruguayan SOS Children's Village Association was founded as early as 1959. In 1964, we started working in Montevideo.
At present there are three SOS Children's Villages, three SOS Youth Facilities and seven SOS Social Centres in Uruguay.
Poverty affects many families in Canelones
SOS Children's Villages supports children so that they can grow up in loving families (photo: SOS archives).
An estimated 500,000 people live in the Canelones district. Many people who live in the area commute to work to the nearby capital city, Montevideo.
The area is known for its vineyards, as well as for its meat and food-processing industries. Tourism is important along the region's coast.
The district has a mix of rural and urban areas. In rural areas, the poverty rate is one of the highest in the country. Young people are especially affected as there aren't many jobs available. There is also a high number of urban poor, many moved to the city for work and a better life. However, they often end up living in shanty towns. They live in huts made of metal and nylon fabric and they have no toilets or drains. When it rains, the shelters flood and they have to move out into emergency accommodation.
Children in need of support
Many families live in poverty. This is most likely to affect children who live with only one parent or those who have many brothers and sisters. A high number of women are unemployed, and they find it harder than men to find work.
In 2014, there were around 243 children and young adults who had lost parental care in the district. Children come into care due to domestic violence, or because parents suffer from mental health issues or addictions. Children suffer the effects – they are malnourished, find it hard to learn and to relate to their peers. They also have behavioural issues. All of this means that they are more likely to drop out of school – not many adolescents finish school.
Recently vulnerable families and children have received more governmental support, but there is still a lack of services for many children. In addition, there are not enough places offering the level of care which children need.
What we do in Canelones
Brothers and sisters playing together (photo: SOS archives)
Strengthen families: The SOS Family Strengthening Programme has been supporting local families since 2010. We run day-care centres for children up to age three. The centres are close to where the most vulnerable families live. We also assist families so that they can use the existing services; there are schools and health centres in the area but families need extra support so that they can send their children to school and take them to the doctor's.
Family-based care: Since 2012 we have been offering family-based care for children who have lost parental care. The SOS families provide a loving home where children grow up with their brothers and sisters. In Canelones, the homes are in the community and families are fully integrated into the different districts where they live. This way the children can continue to be in touch with their friends, go to the local kindergartens and schools and take part in neighbourhood activities. We also support foster families in the area.
When children come into our care, we work with the children's family of origin – we give them support so that they can, when the time is right, care for their children again. Once a child goes back to their family, we continue to assist them, to ensure that the child is well looked after.
Short-term care: In some cases, children need to be removed from their families of origin as quickly as possible. We offer these children short-term care until they can return to their families or find someone else to care for them.
Support for young people: Young adults are supported while they continue their education and training and then find a job. Qualified staff supports them until they can live independently.