Temporary and exceptional – the future of foster care
A child’s birth family, their original family, is often neglected in the provision of foster care. Social workers may believe that foster families are only there to protect the child; they don’t know how to work with the original family, and sometimes children remain in foster care, passed from one placement to another, because child protection workers can’t get into the original family and help the original family to change. For me, we cannot provide good foster care if we don’t know how to work with the original families in violent contexts, if they are not considered as a part of the intervention from the very beginning.
ABTH has worked in the field of foster care for over 20 years. Brazil has had foster care for much longer, but until 1995 the most common kind of formal provision was long term, for those children who were not able to be adopted. After the introduction of the UNCRC and the acceptance of a human rights-based approach to child protection, we wrote policies which considered foster care as an alternative, temporary placement for children living in violent family contexts. This foster care is short or medium term.
In our methodology foster care is a temporary circumstance of up to (and never more than) two years. It exists while we work with the original family to be able to protect the children. We focus on how the foster family can help the original family. For example, the two meet each other once a week, even from the beginning, from the first period of the placement.
In addition, we believe that foster care is not only short or medium term, but also potentially preventative. It can create a protective environment for maintaining children with their families; if the original family has a lot of work because the child demands a lot of investment and the parents need a break, foster care can relieve the pressure. We strive to prevent separation, making it an exception, and when it is undertaken, temporary.
I think this is a kind of awareness which we need to develop all over the world. We need different methodologies which focus on how we help the original family to reorganise themselves to be able to protect the children. Foster care can be a very good answer for a lot of children who need to be separated from their original families. But I think that the world needs much more reflection on how to do it well. It’s delicate. There are a lot of relationships to pay attention to. Each context is unique – each case is one case, each region is one region, each culture is one culture.
How to implement good foster care is a process of reflections and I think the world finds itself at a good moment to stop and reflect deeply about it. Our recent colloquium attracted delegates from all over Brazil – from 25 of the 27 states and 153 municipalities. We also welcomed professionals, NGOs and Governments from 18 countries including Argentina, Guyana, Chile, Peru, Venezuela,, Paraguay, Uruguay, USA, Ireland, UK, France, Moldova, Russia, Ethiopia and Rwanda. Five years after the Guidelines for Alternative Care were introduced, people are paying attention.