Frequently, when the terms “Foster Care” or “Emergency Care” are spoken about within many Western nations, a myriad of negative experiences and stories surface. People picture children uprooted time and time again. Children shuffled through a system, clutching a garbage bag to their chest filled with their only personal belongings.
Children in Families (CIF) takes a different approach. We believe children need stability, so we seek promote permanency and solid family units to minimize trauma and attachment disorders. Our process is thorough to ensure the best possible outcomes for both families and children.
I sat down with Leak, our Foster Care Project Manager, to share with our readers how CIF recruits, monitors, and works with foster families in Cambodia. He walked me through the in-depth process.
Gathering the Community
First, CIF hosts an event in a location where we work (or hope to work). We invite village authorities, community leaders, police, NGO partners, and local churches to join the event. There we share about our Foster Care and Kinship Care Projects, and also explain our policies.
If anyone is interested in becoming a foster parent, our case workers start an application process. We also encourage those who attend our event to share the information within the community. Not all are clear about the process, so our staff follow up with interested families.
Once a family fills out the application, the village chief, commune leaders, and police must review and sign it. This ensures the local leaders are also involved in the monitoring and safety of each family and child. Community leaders are witness to a family’s day to day life and have deeper knowledge of behaviors not necessarily noticed in shorter visits.
After the application is complete, Leak reviews it. CIF does a family interview next. He meets the applicants at their home, conducts an interview, and takes notes. Assessing the family home gives us an idea of whether it will be a safe environment to raise children in, the financial stability of the family, and responsibility of the family. We check with neighbors and village leaders to ensure there is no gambling or drinking within the family members. This is followed by an interview of village leaders and extended family members.
Once we assess they are a safe, healthy family, we begin to find out what role they can play in fostering children.
I asked Leak what an assessment looks like. He said the important questions are, “Would they be willing to take a child long-term or short-term? Why do they want to be foster parents? Do they prefer a girl or boy? What age groups would work well with the family? Are they willing to care for a child with a disability? And, is there a school and hospital nearby?”
These questions help us to identify which children would be a good match for the family, as well as what supports for the child exist within the family or community. The children in CIF’s Foster Care Project are referred to us via the Department of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth (DoSVY), other NGOs, and hospitals – mostly due to abandoned children or those with disabilities or illnesses left in the hospital.
As required by Cambodian Law, CIF takes married Khmer families, but not families where a parent has a chronic illness. This is to ensure the family has the capacity to look after a foster child. It also helps prevent children from growing attached to an ill foster parent, and then losing them tragically.
We explain our protection policies and how we will be regularly visiting, working with the family to support this child as they grow.
Finally, CIF leaders and social workers meet as a team to decide if the family is approved or not.
Matching a Child to a Family
Once CIF approves a family, they go on a waiting list. When a child who is a good match for the family is in need of fostering, we let the family know. The husband and wife together have to both agree to take the child. We give them time to decide, so it is not a rushed or forced decision.
If the husband and wife accept, they then go through education and training with CIF. We teach the family about child rights, child development, child protection, hygiene, etc. After the child is placed, we continue to hold regular trainings for our families.
In addition to training and monitoring, CIF generally pays a stipend to a family for up to a year, though situational needs may mean that adjustments are made here and there. This covers a child’s needs for medical, education, and food.
It Takes a Village
When we place children into families, we invite local authorities and pastors to join. It goes beyond a family and becomes a community’s responsibility to ensure the child has a place to belong. Cambodian society is already based on the idea that it takes a village to raise a child; the other advantage to that philosophy is it makes it easier to build up the idea that children are valuable, and should be cared for by everyone. We work with the family and local government witnesses to process guardianship documents with DoSVY. DoSVY is the legal guardian of any children placed in foster care. (Similar to how State governments in America or Australia have guardianship of children who enter the foster care system.)
Based on our knowledge of trauma and attachment disorders, CIF works to keep children in a consistent family. Once they are placed in Foster Care, they rarely change placements. The exception is our Emergency Care Project. We will reintegrate if a family has capacity to care for their child.
I probed deeper in my interview. Leak said, “On rare occasions it is a bad fit, but we try to work with the child and family to find a solution.”
He explained in these situation that it takes patience, but many of the families heed the advice of the social workers. They receive more regular follow ups and training, and are supported in working with the child’s difficult behaviour. It almost always works out that once the child realizes they have a consistent family who will stand with them, their behaviour improves. CIF only ends placements when circumstances becomes dangerous for the child or the family.
Monitoring and Care
Along with providing ongoing training for our families and children, our social workers and project managers also visit regularly. Sometimes we arrive unannounced and sometimes the family is aware we are coming. This ensures we are getting a more accurate picture of home life. Our social workers also meet with children individually. They try to talk with them to get an honest idea of their treatment and care. The one-on-one meetings help monitor how the child really is feeling. CIF also runs an informal class in Svay Rieng at our office where our local foster children gather. Children know there are others in their community they can relate to.
While there is always room to grow and improve, we are pretty proud of the impact our Foster Care Project is making. CIF currently has 107 children in foster care with 82 families in four provinces. Within the past year, with domestic adoption becoming available, five of our foster children were adopted by their families.
We keep our eyes fixed on our main goal, that all children deserve loving families.