|© UNICEF Jordan/2012/Bruere|
|Two-and-a-half-year-old Heba plays with her favourite doll. She has been with her foster family for three months.|
By Wendy Bruere
ZARQA, Jordan, 26 November 2012 – Like any new mother, Amra* is besotted with her baby girl. “When I put her to sleep beside me, I gaze at her and admire her,” she says.
Amra and her husband have just become foster parents. Thirteen-month-old Ruba* is one of the first five children to be fostered in Jordan through the Community-Family Integration Teams (C-FIT) programme developed by Columbia University, in partnership with the Ministry of Social Development and supported by UNICEF.
Shifting to community-based care
In Jordan, young children who cannot be cared for by their biological parents are placed in care homes. Children in these institutions might be from broken families, born out of wedlock, born as a result of incest or removed from abusive families. Occasionally, the children have simply been abandoned.
These days, children in care are usually put in small groups in apartments. However, care workers work in shifts, and the staff turnover creates instability for the children, according to project director with Columbia University Middle East Research Center (CUMERC) Rawan Ibrahim.
“Children in care houses miss out on learning lots of social skills and everyday skills they need to survive. We take these skills for granted, but they are difficult to develop in institutions,” Ms. Ibrahim says. “In Jordan, we are a collective society, so your value as an individual is based on being part of group, usually your kin group.”
While placement of children with foster families began only a few months ago, and the programme is so far operating only in Zarqa, work is under way to expand fostering across the country.
UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Maha Homsi says that, while UNICEF sees reuniting children with their biological families as the best option, when it is not feasible, fostering is better for children than growing up in institutions. “Children in institutions have been found to develop high levels of mental health concerns, including depression and suicidal tendencies,” Ms. Homsi says. “Living with a foster family is a better option for children who cannot be with their biological families.”
After one month with her new daughter, things are going well for Amra, and the extended family has embraced the new member.
|© UNICEF Jordan/2012/Bruere|
|Baby Ruba and her foster mother. When living with her or his biological family is not an option for a child, fostering is better than growing up in an institution.|
Two-and-a-half-year-old Heba* is another child to be fostered under the programme. Lina*, a widow, made the decision to foster after discussing it with her two adult daughters who both live with her. Lina says the little girl, who has been with them for three months now, has brought life into the house.
“The first couple of days were not easy because we were strangers to her, but, by the third day, she was getting better,” Lina says. “She still sometimes talks about the children she used to live with at the care house, but when I ask her if she wants to go back there, she says no.”
Follow-up support and care are given to foster parents and children through UNICEF partners the Ministry of Social Development and the Family Guidance and Awareness Centre, whose social workers make regular home visits to the families during an intensive 16-week programme.
Children fostered under the programme will all be told they are fostered and, in some cases, they will eventually be reunited with their birth mothers. Ms. Ibrahim says that, although reunification with either nuclear or extended families is a programme priority – provided it is in the best interest of the child – in reality, it is highly unlikely that reunification will happen, in many cases.
The C-FIT programme is a multi-year partnership among the Ministry of Social Development, CUMERC and Columbia University School of Social Work. Through the introduction of foster care into the current model of care in the Jordanian child welfare system, the UNICEF-funded project aims to de-institutionalize children in orphanages and residential care homes. The same programme is also working to introduce community-based alternatives to Jordanian children in juvenile detention centres.
*Names have been changed to protect the children’s and parent’s identities.