Foster care will need tough decisions

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Foster care will need tough decisions

The IFCO, (International Foster Care Organisation) Malta 2017

At the recent IFCO (International Foster Care Organisation) Conference held this month, President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca urged all stakeholders to “not remain immobile in the face of children in out-of-home care getting lost in the system.” Additionally, “We cannot stand idle when so many children and young people are getting lost in the labyrinth of institutional structures and formal systems.”

Her appeal called upon all the assembled stakeholders to be “vociferous” and push hard to keep policies and initiatives that supported high-quality out-of-home care high on the political agenda of nations:

“All children are entitled to the best possible care. We must therefore act on our legal, ethical and social obligations to meet the diverse, complex and human needs of every child,” – this was her message to all those gathered at the IFCO Conference held at the President’s Palace in Valletta.

The theme of the conference was ‘Setting Sail from a Safe Port’, and constituted the President’s Foundation for the ‘Wellbeing of Society’s Third Conference for Childhood Welfare’. It brought together stakeholders from forty one countries. It was held in collaboration with the International Foster Care Organisation – partners included the National Foster Care Association Malta, the Foundation for Social Welfare Services and Eurochild.

President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca spoke of her past experiences as Family Minister and the meetings she had with children and their families. She said it was imperative to always listen to children and the stories they had to tell of their experiences. And that it was their ultimate right to be heard.

In an impassioned appeal, the President, stressed that the decisions governments took about the well-being of children and young people impacted directly on the “overall well-being of our communities and societies.”

The message was strong and unequivocal: there should be no compromise when it came to the investment required to ensure that children would have the best caregivers, planned placements and institutions to support their interests. And safeguarding the well-being and interests of children must always be the priority. President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca left everyone in no doubt that –

“We cannot be afraid to make tough decisions when it comes to legislation, policy and implementation, thereby ensuring that our children really come first, at every step of the process.”

Rainbow International and its foster care work in India

Rainbow International’s agency director Aijaz Ahmad is determined that the spirit of international collaboration, so powerfully expressed in Malta, will continue to galvanise his efforts for supporting fostering in India. This year has seen many of the preliminary discussions take place that has resulted in the creation of a National Resource Centre for Foster Care at Jamia Millia Islamia University.

A brief history of foster care

In 1971 – forty five years ago – in Mumbai the Family Service Centre became the first organisation to find children foster homes in India. Memories have now dimmed over the years, but what seems likely is that  Jenny Talwalkar became the first woman to ‘officially’ become a foster carer in India. In the intervening years, there has been little progress with fostering being poorly understood – even today. But there is a change of mood and changes are on the way: on June 7th, 2016, a set of guidelines for foster care were laid down by the Ministry of Women and Child Development: ‘The Model Guidelines for Foster Care 2016” still in draft form, it attempts to set out a procedure for group foster care. This has been done in conjunction with ‘Regulations for Adoption 2016’ – which examines pre-adoption foster care under the Juvenile Justice Act. These guidelines aim to promote and encourage the idea of fostering.

Fostering knowledge in India is limited

The present situation is:

“There are two kinds of foster care, one where children are placed in pre-adoptive care before they get legally adopted. And the second category is of children who cannot get adopted due to physical or mental disability and need to be looked after until they turn 18.” This is explained by the programme manager for Maharashtra’s State Adoption Resource Agency (SARA), Amol Shinde. 

What is required is clarity: opines Avanti More programme officer with the NGO. Even at the present time, quite a few of the Child Welfare Committees (CWCs) remain largely unaware about the provision of foster care services. There is an impetus from the government in the form of guidelines – combined with training sessions – designed to help instruct Child Welfare officers about procedures relating to foster care. The hope is that as a consequence, more NGOs will be encouraged into the process. This will play a crucial part in helping to elevate awareness of foster care generally.

“The new guidelines will help the CWC in several states understand how to go about foster care. Until now, only some forward thinking CWC were able to permit foster care,” stated Ian Anand: who was responsible for setting up a Center of Excellence in Alternative Care of Children in New Delhi in 2015.

Ian was himself abandoned at birth and then adopted by a couple in the United States. In later life, he returned to India to try and put something back into the country he was born in by promoting foster care. He has gone on the record to say that fostering is a “brand new concept in India”; and that there are big differences between the way fostering takes place in the West – as compared to in India. Only Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Goa have so far; according to Ian, gone as far as creating basic guidelines for fostering provision. In the West, foster carers are licensed, but in India NGOs can shortlist then register foster carers, but are unable to make any legal decision in relation to applicants interested in fostering. Ian’s opinion is that there now needs to be more support for the CWCs and a strengthening of their roles. He says: “What we need is systematisation of licensing, foster care procedures and counselling of parents and children.”

The lack of provision is indicated by the fact that a recent survey carried out by an NGO (Bosco – based in Bangalore) found there were only thirty organisations in the entire country working to find foster care placements. It was further discovered that Maharashtra has eight, with Kerala having fourteen. The view of counsellor Bakya Lakshmi T describes the general situation: “Awareness is low. In Bangalore, we visited anganwadis* to take help from ASHA workers to find prospective parents and counsel them. It is still the middle and lower income group that is willing to become a foster family.”

*An anganwadi is a “courtyard shelter”. Their provision was made by the Indian government in 1975 as part of the Integrated Child Development Services program which aimed to address child malnutrition. A typical anganwadi centre also provides basic health care in Indian villages.

The value of an international perspective on foster care

For Rainbow International, the opportunity to support the work of IFCO – as well as play a part in informing an international debate on fostering – can only have positive consequences for its work in India. Aijaz Ahmad will be taking a close interest in the findings and proposed actions of the current foster care stocktake in England. Important lessons and new approaches to foster care provision are likely to result. These could be of value both here and abroad. It will not be long now before the stocktake publishes its findings. It is also to be hoped that the sentiments expressed by the President of Malta will find their way to the government here in the UK. There are rising numbers of children coming into the care system and we have, as a nation, to ensure that all children have the best possible start in life. This is even more important for children who start out often with so many disadvantages. As a nation, we supposedly pride ourselves on our sense of ‘fair play’: so we have no choice – the well-being of all our children has to be the priority. After all, they are our future. And on a larger stage, the well-being of children everywhere has to be at the forefront of policymaking.

Foster with Rainbow

Call 020 8427 3355 and discover how we will help you build a career in foster care. Transferring to Rainbow if you are already a foster carer couldn’t be easier. We have a generous ‘Rainbow Rewards’ incentive scheme for foster carers transferring to us. If you refer someone who becomes a foster carer with Rainbow, you will receive a bonus when they have accepted their first placement.

Good news at the end of our Rainbow…A Happy Birthday to, Rich, our energetic Youth Participation Officer from everyone at Rainbow Fostering

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