THERE are four siblings living somewhere in Guyana who benefitted from foster care when they were most in need. Their mother was incarcerated, and no family member could have all four children; the youngest– a baby; the others ranged from 5 to 10 years old. The Childcare and Protection Agency (CPA) scouted through their list and found a suitable candidate who ‘fostered’ them previously but had never undertaken such a mammoth task. Her name is Beverley- Ann Hopkins. Mrs. Hopkins, her husband and her two older children welcomed the siblings into their home, but of course, that was only the beginning of many days ahead, some of which were challenging. Foster parents are special people; they care for children temporarily, offering a home away from home, warmth, comfort, care and give individual attention to a child. It is an alternative solution to placing children in institutional care (a children’s home). At first, the children were shy, and apart from eating and bathing, they barely interacted or wanted to make eye contact. They missed their mother. Mrs. Hopkins knew that if she could connect with and ‘win over’ the eldest child, the younger two would follow his example, and it worked. In time, things fell into place. The children settled down and became familiar with their surroundings and their carers.
Bonding with the baby was easy for Mrs. Hopkins; she cared for so many babies in the past. As the months flew by, the bond grew stronger between them. The baby had no memory of her mother, and this concerned the carer; the mother would be a stranger to the child when they eventually meet. This consideration was one reason why CPA officers kept the siblings together. When the time came for reunification with their biological mother, the children would do so as a unit. Each child would have shared experiences and memories of their foster home. There is always the chance that a foster parent might develop an attachment to a child, especially when the child has grown from a babe-in-arms to a walking, talking, delightful toddler — it is only natural. But foster parents know that, eventually, the day will come when the child has to go home. Mentally, they have to prepare for that day. This essential factor is highlighted and emphasised at foster care training.
A foster parent’s role is to connect, protect and direct their foster children while providing a stable environment. Foster children have already been through the very emotional transition of being separated from loved ones. They need adults who understand how to nurture and safeguard them until their biological parents can do so, or a suitable family member is appointed.
People sometimes confuse foster care with adoption, but adoption is permanent, and the children belong to their adoptive parents by law. Foster care is temporary, and the children can be relocated or returned to their family at any time. In an emergency, children are placed with foster parents overnight, or for a couple of weeks. Depending on the circumstances (e.g. a single parent might be hospitalised, a domestic violence incident may have occurred).
Placement can last 3 – 6 months’ maximum, depending on each case and the factors involved. Parents can have arranged visits to see their children while they are in foster care. However, they are not allowed to take them anywhere or take them home. Many foster parents build healthy relationships with the parents of the children they care for and keep in touch with the child, even when they are returned home. Foster care is a specialist service provided for children in their time of need.
Children homes (institutional care) can be a life-saving sanctuary for abused, neglected and abandoned children. The children are given three meals per day and have their general needs met, such as a clean environment, health care, education and adult supervision. Even so, children homes are not the best place for developing children. One-to-one attention is lacking, as well as the comfort and reliability of family life and community involvement.
Children who spend years in institutional care can develop secret pains of abandonment and rejection. Everyone knows that ‘home’ is meant to be a place of refuge – the one place where kinfolks know you, greet you and treat you with love, understanding and the respect you deserve. Ironically, for some children, home is the one place they cannot be; they are at risk of abuse. They are therefore placed in institutional care, along with children in similar or worse situations. Here, they live as a group. They eat as a group, sleep as a group and experience the same things every day, every month, and, in some cases, every year.
Foster care offers family-based care and individualised attention for children. It is not a substitute for biological parents but more like a bridge that fills the gap for children until they reunite with parents. There are approximately 236 children in foster care in Guyana, mostly in Regions 3, 4,5 and 6.
This month is Foster Care Month, and the theme is ‘Foster Care is a support for families, not a substitute for parents’. The Childcare and Protection Agency, Ministry of Human Services and Social Protection wishes to honour ALL foster parents across Guyana and thank them for opening up their homes and hearts to children in their time of need. (Names have been changed to protect identity) If you are concerned about the welfare of a child, call the CPA hotline on 227 0979 or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
A MESSAGE FROM THE CHILDCARE AND PROTECTION AGENCY,
MINISTRY OF HUMAN SERVICES AND SOCIAL SECURITY