Street children represent the most disadvantaged and marginalized sectors of society. Many ran away from difficult home situations, often exacerbated by abuse and extreme poverty. The children with whom the initiators worked with painted a grim picture of the poverty situation of their families. Some of them had spoken of considering it lucky if they were able to eat at least a meal a day. Levels of stress in the family correlate squarely with economic circumstances. Studies undertaken by experts to determine how mental health of those affected by economic recessions indicated that job loss and subsequent poverty have been found to relate closely with violence in families, including child and elder abuse. Poor families have experienced much more stress than middle-class families. Besides financial uncertainty, these families have more chances of being exposed to series of negative events and would seem to live a life of bad luck including illness, depression, eviction, job loss, criminal victimization, and family death. Parents who have experienced hard economic times may become excessively abusive and often the people at the receiving end of their abuses would be the least powerful members of the family – the children. This was validated by the children themselves in their stories they shared with their new found big brothers and sisters.
To cope with the hard life in the streets, street children resorted to crimes to survive and most often end up in jail. Prior to the passage of the Juvenile Justice Bill in 2006, it was estimated that in 2005 over 4,000 children were in jails and detention centers all over the Philippines – many of them mixed with adults. Children as young as nine years of age were arrested and detained for many months, even while awaiting the resolution of their cases. Most were charged with minor crimes, such as petty theft, sniffing solvents, and vagrancy. One of the aims of the Justice Bill was to remove children out of the criminal justice system and to keep them out of adult jails.
Helping the children they took under their care that they may not come into conflict with the law was a big challenge to the volunteers. They talked with the parents and together they evolved a way to address the issue. With no resources at their disposal, they sought the help of interested agencies to help them out. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) granted the parents of the children start-up funds to enable them to start small business that t would enable them to earn some income to support their families. DSWD also provided temporary shelter to some of t the kids who would still need to be re-united with their parents. Some agencies also gave scholarship grants to the children to enable them to continue with their interrupted studies. The initiators were happy that their efforts showed results.
They were jubilant with the outcome of their work but the initiators knew that the problem of children in the streets could not be sustainably dealt with if interventions would only be focused in helping children already on the streets and not on strategizing for ways to prevent that from happening. They believed that until the children would be freed from the prison of poverty, abuse, discrimination and oppression, they would continue to find ways to escape from the walls of those prisons. Again the initaitors were up to another challenge. It was not enough to just believe. They must turn their belief to action. Confident that they could do it, they set up an organization that would help them put their ideas to work. The Tahanang Walang Rehas (Home Without bars) Foundation, the forerunner of Children First, came into being. The name of the organization spoke of their vision. A home without bars for all children.