The Drop-In Centre, located in the heart of the city's bustling bazaar, provides a safe space for children. It was started in 2002 specifically to meet the needs of working boys who had nowhere to rest in the market.
The drop-in centre provides:
- A safe place for the children to rest and play
- Support for education or vocational training
- Art, music and sporting activities
- Medical care
- Legal advice
The centre has supported more than 7,500 young people to date. Its wide-ranging activities provides the children with a sense of worth for the present and growing sense of hope for the future.
Staff at the centre help these children gain:
- A greater understanding and control over their own lives
- Skills to cope with the everyday challenges that they face
- A feeling of acceptance and being valued and respected
Difficulties for Working Children
Many young boys drop out of school before the age of 15 years and face a bleak future with no formal qualifications or vocational skills.
This situation has been made even more difficult by the enforcement in 2007 of an old Iraqi law which criminalizes working children under the age of 15 years.
Rather than helping support children, this has led to many coming into conflict with the Juvenile Police, causing great distress to the children and their families.
STEP, along with other NGOs, is opposing this policy and supporting children that have been affected by its outworking.
Foster Care in Iraqi Kurdistan
STEP is working in partnership with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs to develop, monitor and assess the success of a foster care system in Kurdish Iraq.
The Kurdish region has a long history of caring for and looking after orphaned children. Back in 1979 social care homes were established in the Kurdish region with the assistance of Save the Children UK and Kurdistan Save the Children (KSC). The Ministry of Social Affairs took over the running of these homes during the early years of 2000.
In many countries in the developed world alternative child care provision working alongside residential care has been in existence for many years. In recent years there is an increased awareness in developing countries for the need to move from institutional care to family based care. It is developing across different cultures and has been influenced, informed and underpinned by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In addition to working in partnership with the government, STEP is partnering with another UK charity, SFAC (Substitute Families for Abandoned Children) to help achieve a successful system.
Having worked in the Kurdish region for the past decade, STEP understands the desire of the KRG to bring Kurdish law, policy, and practice, in line with international standards. Immense progress has been made over the last few years and STEP in consultation with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs feels that this is the time to improve child care services in the region.
Protecting children has been at the heart of the STEP project since its inception.
STEP currently has six mobile teams identifying vulnerable children living outside of camps and through a case management and referral systems supports them and their families through social work visits and our networks with other charities and organisations in the area. STEP also runs child friendly spaces and child protection teams within both refugee and internally displaced camps.
STEP is committed to training and equipping professionals who work with children.
A high focus is placed on sustainability and empowerment, working with local professionals to improve the lives of vulnerable children. Our training is focused on specific areas of good practice for all those who work alongside children or their environment.
STEP believes that by raising the awareness and skills of those already working with and alongside children, more vulnerable children can be protected. This leads us to be supporting Social Workers and Teachers but also Police Officers and Volunteer Support Workers. Topics covered range from the essential core principles of child protection to specialist areas such as mediation and Alternative to Violence training.
Legal Support and Advocacy
STEP's work with children for over a decade has given it a unique understanding of the challenges facing them, particularly those who come into contact with the law.
Children may come into contact with the law because of criminal or civil proceedings, as well as their need for care and protection.
STEP advocates for the care and protection of children in general and provides specialized support to children in conflict with the law. Within the broader mission to improve the system to care for and protect children, STEP provides direct legal and social services to children in conflict with the law in the Kurdistan Region.
STEP's lawyer and social worker assess detained children's legal and social needs, provide legal counsel and court representation as well as support school and community reintegration.