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Santos: integrated children’s program – 1995
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Santos: integrated children’s program – 1995

Ladislau Dowbor
Originalmente publicado

A case study of a successful experience of integrated policy for children in the city of Santos. Published by Unicef for the Istanbul City Summit.( L. Dowbor)


Santos: Integrated Children’s and Family Program

Santos Municipal Government
Santos, November 1995

This study was made with the cooperation of several of the institutions that participate in the program. Supplementary information can be requested from the Secretariat of Community Action, Rua Augusto Severo, 7 – 14o andar, 11010-050 Santos-SP, Brazil. Tel. +55.13 232-6769 Fax +55.13 232-5380.

Over the last six years, the municipality of Santos has been developing a number of projects aimed at children and the family, coordinating initiatives in various areas, like health, education, culture, sports and advocacy. These integrated and sustained projects are changing the situation of chidren in the city.

Santos is a city of half a million inhabitants located 65 km. south of São Paulo. It is known for being the largest port in Latin America, and is also an important center for tourism. The greater Santos area has 1.2 million inhabitants and a local product of around US$6 billion.

The large port area, intensive tourism and the proximity of the urban leviathan, São Paulo, with its 16 million inhabitants, means that the problem of children who are poor or in situations of risk is particularly important in this region.

The Brazilian context is highly adverse. Government statistics show 32 million people, of the total population of 160 million, living in absolute poverty or indigence. Brazil is first in the world in terms of concentration of income: the 50% poorest – 80 million people – have access to 12% of the country’s income, while the richest 1% have 15%. The data presented at the Copenhagen Summit by the Brazilian government are eloquent and it is no exaggeration to consider the situation explosive.

To better understand the situation cities face, it is important to note that Brazil is a country that became urbanized late. In 1950 there were few cities and about two thirds of the population lived scattered across the countryside. Today almost 80% of the population is urban, which means that the rural exodus was exceptionally intense, a real demographic revolution. The result is cities with gigantic belts where the poor population lives with no infrastructure and faces the daily drama of inadequate social services, sanitation, security, provisioning. For children, the situation means high rates of child labor, neglect, prostitution, disease and mortality.

While the problems explode in the cities, the decision-making structure continues to be centralized, a legacy of the time when only the capital had a government, skilled professionals, banks and capacity to lead. In practice, while the municipality is on the front line of social problems, it is the lowest step of the hierarchy of public decision-making; meanwhile, waiting for solutions from outside has become increasingly unviable.

In this context, it is particularly important that a municipal government rolled up its sleeves and plunged into the struggle to defend the family and children, using local instruments until solutions of national scope are developed. Actually, Santos’s experience shows that local initiative has an enormous potential that is often underestimated and underused.

The Santos program for children is guided by the political commitment to comply with the Children’s and Adolescents’ Act and by certain principles that have become established through experience in facing the problems. These principles can be summarised as follows:

1. Children’s problems should be solved holistically: for children, health, education, income, security are not separate domains. As a result, the care and environment created for children should be developed on in an integrated way.

2. Each child is an individual: excessively overarching policies to reach “categories”, that do not pay attention to individual problems, do not have good results. In the last instance, a child captured by the machinery of prostitution or drugs, who is a victim of labor exploitation or has been abandoned by his or her parents, generates a set of problems and values that require specific solutions. As a result, policies can be organized according to type of problem, but action goes through the capillaries of the body politic, reaching individuals, groups and the community.

3. Children have to feel they are active in the process, not “helped” in the traditional sense. The process of rebuilding self-esteem and reconstructing forms of relating to life and others require that they take conscious attitudes. Children have to be active participants in processes of change and have chance to evaluate and criticise them.

4. There are no miraculous or quick solutions, but diversified and long-reaching policies that reach that capillary level and are sustained over enough time so they become permanent. They are actually changes in culture, not just improvements in material conditions.

5. Sustainability requires effective participation by many social players: municipal government, the courts, business leaders, volunteers, community organizations, the media, the children themselves. Hence, a traditional administrative system based on laws, budgets and controls has to be broadly supplemented by a permanent process of coordination with other social players in the city.

6. The local authority has to coordinate the policies of different government structures, national and regional welfare agencies and enrich the system of inter-governmental consultation. All activities should be accountable, in the last instance, for the desired practical results for the children and families.

7. Information is a fundamental dimension of children’s advocacy. It requires both “fine” organization of information that is only possible if educators work in the risk environments where children live, and a broader statistical view that makes it possible to scale the programs correctly. It is also necessary to interact with the social players, identify job opportunities and other real alternatives for the children, as well as communicate with society as a whole about the world of its children and help it overcome fears and prejudices.

Coordinated efforts are being undertaken in a number of areas of government, with community participation and partnerships; compliance with the Children’s and Adolescents’ Act is the framework for this action.

Beginning in 1989, the municipal government expanded and created programs aimed at children, with a number of objectives: services to reduce infant mortality, improve dental health, promote mental health, reduce the school drop-out rate and the rate of failure, replace discriminatory special classes with special support services and other projects. A broad and diversified program of services was begun for street children. Cultural and sports activities were also started and expanded.

From 1993, when Mayor David Capistrano took office, it was decided to organize and integrate these projects, defining and meeting pre-defined goals. Thus, health activities were done in the education sector, education in advocacy and so on. A number of undertakings elicited the enthusiasm of business leaders, volunteers and other municipal governments in the region.

Children’s Health

The city government created a system of 22 polyclinics where medical care is provided and there is nutritional supervision and immmunization programs. All of the polyclinics have programs to encourage breastfeeding.

The services provided by this basic health system and complemented by the following programs:

Program for neonates at risk: Following early detection of children at risk in the maternity wards right after birth, the polyclinic staff is alerted and develops a program to assist these children and reduce the infant mortality rate in the municipality. The program includes pediatrics, immunization, regular visits to the family, encouragement of breastfeeding, follow-up when children are hospitalized. There are no municipal hospitals, so quality control over childbirth and neonate services is difficult, the polyclinics provide pre-natal care. Specialized care for pregnant women at risk, especially adolescents, is provided at the woman’s home at any hour of the day, any day of the week.

This has contributed to reducing the infant mortality rate from 34 per thousand live births in 1990 to 22 per thousand in 1994.

Home Care Program – Child HCP: Medical care at home for cases that would normally require hospitalization makes it possible for the child to remain with the family. The program was begun in the poorest areas of the city.

Care for HIV-positive children: The municipal program for prevention and treatment of AIDS does early diagnoses of HIV-positive children and provides integrated care. It works with an NGO (Oasis) that has a day-care center for these children, children or orphans of AIDS patients. It also carries out a permanent prevention program, together with the Secretariat of Education.

Mental health: The municipal government currently has two centers for children’s self-esteem that provide multidisciplinary services to children with problems at school and who have been ill-treated, working in coordination with the Guardian Councils, the Council for the Defense of the Rights of Children and Adolescents and the courts, with a view to compliance with the Children’s and Adolescents’ Act. One of these centers is in the downtown area, where many children live in overcrowded tenements and difficult family environments. The downtown center also has a toy library and is setting up a nutritional recovery department.

Dental Health: Prevention of tooth decay in children and adolescents all over the city. This includes controls over the concentration of fluoride in drinking water and supervised brushing and fluoride mouthwashes in the municipal and state school system reaching about 50,000 children. The CPO-D index, of decayed teeth lost or filled in children up to 12 years old, went from 8.9 in 1975 to 5.1 in 1989, 3.5 in 1993 and 1.7 in 1995. This rate is better than the WHO goal, which is 3 by the year 2000. The average in Brazil is 6.7 and in the State of São Paulo, 6.4.

Every Child in School

Santos has 137,000 school-age children. Since 1989 the Municipal Secretariat of Education has been trying to reduce the drop-out and failure rates and intensify participation in school administration. Working with the Centers for Children’s Self-Esteem, special classes considered to be discriminatory were replaced with “support classrooms”.

Starting in 1993, the number of shifts in schools was reduced to increase the number of hours the students stayed at school and improve the quality of teaching. Two thousand new places were created at the same time. Municipal school teachers participate in ongoing training schemes.

The city government had only one day-care center. Now there are 13 and support is provided, through contracts, to another 29 day-care centers maintained by welfare organizations. The latter are particularly attractive alternatives as they can use community resources and be more flexible than public day-care centers.

Child Education Centers were established for full-time education of children between 3 and 6 years old.

The Happy Holiday Program is organized during vacations, with sports and cultural activities and ecological tours. Most students’ parents work and do not have time off during this period of the year. All of the municipal secretariats related to social welfare are involved in the activities, together with community organizations About 4,000 children participated in the program in July 1994.

Language courses and computer laboratories were established, aimed especially at attracting the adolescents that have greatest tendency to drop out of school.

Action taken at municipal level created a differential from the state school system. Municipal primary schools have 19,000 students, while state schools have 32,000. In the state schools, the drop-out rate was 11.91 in 1994. In the municipal system only 0.68% dropped out the same year. For this reason, a joint program was created, involving both the Municipal and the State Secretariats of Education, as well as community organizations.

Every Child in School Program: In June 1995 city hall launched the Every Child in School Program to ensure that Santos residents have access to, stay in and are successful in school at least through the first 8 years; the program combats both the tendency to drop out and child labor.

The Program is made up of activities within and outside schools. In the first phase, of active search, all children and adolescents who had left school in 1995 were visited. Trained by the Program coordinators, 150 volunteers visited the families of 1,750 children and youth who had left school or ran the risk of dropping out. The Program guarantees a place for all students who return to school and 427 have already returned after four months of activities. In 1996 children who are not in school will be sought out, neighborhood by neighborhood. Residents can contact the program through a hot line, called Dial School.

Besides mobilizing volunteers, the program uses municipal facilities: day-care centers, community centers and polyclinics. It also provides financial support to families in situations of risk that sign a contract committing themselves to keeping their children in school, out of informal labor and off the streets.

The program has also advanced with a series of awareness-building activities with teachers, stimulating them to provide remedial classes and mobilizing individual and institutional volunteers, like unions, churches and others. These support centers provide services to 490 children.

A Summer School is scheduled for the next holidays. The contents will be based on four themes: dreams, reality, love and humor. The objective is to prepare students to be retested and passed to the next grade.

Sports and Culture

Among other activities, the Sports Schools are important, involving 4,000 children and using city facilities or hiring them from other organizations. The Radical School provides classes and practice in surfing and related activities. The Secretariat of Sports periodically organizes “play streets” that attract hundreds of children from different recreational activities. Priority has been given to areas with few options for leisure activities and children with weak links to the formal life of the city.

The work in this area is oriented by the creation of an environment “rich” in culture accessible to children. Currently, about ten children’s dramas are staged each month, and there are book, comic book and video libraries, classes in dancing, capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian martial art), painting and other cultural activities. The Municipal Secretariat of Culture provides these activities to about 5,000 children a month. Besides this, it works in partnership with other municipal secretariats and some projects have gained prominence, such as the Street Dance Group, which won two national festivals.

Project for Boys and Girls in Situations of Risk

This project for children and adolescents in especially difficult situations is a pedagogical complex aimed at changing the lives of street children and of girls who are victims of prostitution and at combatting child labor.

All of the activities begin in the children’s current environment, to create bonds of trust, begin a pedagogical process and encourage the emergence of life plans.

The service system has the following mechanisms:

Child hot line: A staff of educators provides round-the-clock support and responses to the community’s initiatives of solidarity, providing information about children that need support. There is a shelter for these children, if they want to use it.

Shelter: Short-term shelter where children can be fed and receive first aid. The first step taken, whenever possible, is to return them to their families. Of the 1530 children who have stayed at the shelter, 198 went back to their families.

Street educators: A group of educators circulates throughout the city. It bonds with the children, runs sports activities and takes children into the shelter.

Generation 2001 Experimental School: There are capoeira, silkscreen, painting, sculpture, ballet and sports workshops. The students publish a newspaper.

João Caetano and Vila Mathias Houses: Two houses for children who, because they have broken their relations to their families, need complete care. The children receive medical and dental care and are educated to change their habits. Currently, these children attend school 80% ofthe time. This complete basic care is provided to 55 children and adolescents.

Beginning to work: This department is dedicated to job training for adolescents, with computer and other courses. With the support of local business, 23 adolescents have jobs and their progress and their rights as workers are respected. One example of this project is at the open-air markets, with 152 adolescents. At the beginning they receive uniforms and carts to transport merchandise. Then there are activities for socialization, home visits, access or return to school and job training that makes it possible for them to change jobs later on. The link to the informal labor market is not broken in a repressive way: life is organized to encourage development and then greater proximity to school, job training and, in future, a job in the formal sector. Although there are no alarming cases of child labor in Santos, research is being done to identify working children, seeking to return adolescent workers to the classroom and to find alternatives. The research is done in partnership with the Municipal Council of Children’s and Adolescents’ Rights and the teachers’ union (APEOESP).

Girls of Santos Project: Aimed at girls who are sexually exploited or risk becoming prostitutes, this project contacts the girls and children and directs them to the Casa do Trem Social Center, which has beauty parlor, holds workshops on sexuality, provides help with school homework and training for other, suitable jobs. Of the 170 girls on the rolls, 80 regularly go to the Casa do Trem and have 85% school attendance. Eight already have jobs.

Radio Muleke (Radio Kid): A one-hour, weekly AM radio program with a large audience. The themes of programs, reporting and voices all belong to young people. The idea of a radio program is to give them a voice and improve the educational process. As in football games, those who miss school receive a “yellow card” and are suspended from the program. The program has had national repercussions as it shows to what extent the media are important to develop a feeling of existing, of “belonging” to society in these young people. They recently interviewed Unicef officials on the program, expressing their opinions about programs to support children.

Social Centers: A network of six cultural and sports centers and a toy library located in the poorest neighborhoods of the city serve 3,000 children who are somewhat at risk, providing tutoring and other preventive activities.

Be a Guardian Angel Campaign: On 12 October 1994 this campaign was begun in partnership with the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Municipal Council of the Rights of Children and Adolescents and the ABRINQ Foundation (a business organization) and with radio stations and TV Tribuna. The media called on the city’s population to mobilize in favor of children. More than 600 people called in, were invited to participate as volunteers, to contribute to the Apprenticeship and Job Exchange, contribute financially or, after a strict evaluation, adopt children.

The campaign made a positive change in public opinion and gained increasing support from business. One of the activities was to ask residents to take street boys and girls into their houses to spend Christmas and New Years. There were more offers than candidates and Santos spent Christmas with no children in the street.

The main idea of this project is to promote children’s development, a journey that goes from the street, prostitution or work to the school and the family. The project has cooperation agreements with Unicef, Norway’s Emmanuel House, Poiesis Association and also businessmen.

Metropolitan Covenant for Children

Santos has two Guardian Councils (legal guardians and caretakers of the rights of children) elected by the citizenry and has instituted practically all of the mechanisms provided for by the Children’s and Adolescents’ Act. It therefore responds to demands from surrounding areas; activities have had to be expanded and in June 1995 the first Metropolitan Covenant for Children was signed. Through this agreement, the 9 mayors in the area commit themselves to inaugurating their Guardian Councils, drafting their goals in the areas related to children and reaching them.


Santos has now taken one more step forward with the creation of the Program for Family Support aimed at preventing child labor. On a temporary basis, it provides families with resources to keep children in school, intensify communication and popular participation to reinforce social values and forms a genuine culture of respect for children in the city. The First Children and Family Conference will soon be held, where all social actors involved in the different activities will be able to meet and the process will be consolidated. The main objective is to ensure the sustainability of initiatives and decentralize projects. Part of the Santos Boys and Girls Project will be administered by a non-profit company (Poiesis Association), in order to speed up processes of production and sale of educational toys and silkscreen work.


Taken together, the programs organized in Santos are essentially a new way, coordinated and flexible, of executing relatively traditional child and family welfare programs. It is fundamental that the city developed a reliable system of information about the situation of children, as this allows action to be focused and, above all, means that the agencies are forced to organize around practical results; this involves both the internal efficiency of each agency and inter-agency cooperation. Community organizations and partnerships with social players in the city ensure that the the pressure of “demand” from the users is felt by the whole system, forcing it to adopt measures that work. Finally, a rapid communication system with city residents allows the gradual creation of a new local culture on children’s problems. And, in a way, as the family environment and the child are valued, basic social values are reaffirmed.

The practical results are manifest, in the last analysis, in the substantial reduction in rates of infant mortality, school drop-out and failure, and the systematic reduction of the number of children at risk.

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