In my conversation with F (names have been initialized and changed to preserve confidentiality), a member of the Leadership Team (LT), I caught up on the important subject of the court hearings for the children. The Home has received court letters regarding the children from four families so far, and the court has begun to hold hearings, which the Leadership Team from the Home has attended. Because of the new law, there is now a powerful initiative to take children out of children’s homes and return them to their biological families. LT is concerned that the families feel threatened by the courts when they hesitate to take their children back; LT thinks that the families are afraid they will be sent to prison if they don’t accept their children. At present, the court requires children to stay in a children’s home for a maximum of two years. Of course, most of the children in the Home have lived there for many years, some for most of their childhood, and the Home has offered a functional family for them – providing security, nurturing, quality education, and important relationships. Therefore, leaving the home, while in some cases allowing them to repair a rupture with their biological families, will always entail a significant loss.
Last month there was a hearing for A, and the court sent her to live with her aunt. The court interviewed the aunt and the mom and made a determination of whether or not the mom was capable of caring for her. On the basis of the mom not having a suitable home, the court decided that A should live with her aunt. A is very attached to F, a member of the LT who nurtured her since she was an ill newborn. The pain of this separation is eased somewhat by the fact that F has made a good relationship with the aunt, and the aunt is supportive of the relationship F has with A. She has allowed A to come to the Home every weekend, and F has been visiting the aunt’s home. Another positive factor is that A has been beginning to build a relationship with her aunt, already had been in contact with her aunt, who had been visiting every other weekend. Next year A will be in first grade and will need to change schools. The Home is still paying for A’s education, and they will help the aunt look for a good school in the area of her home.
B and C are adolescent sisters from another family who are being reunited with their aunt. The Home wrote a proposal requesting that the court give permission for the sisters to stay at the Home long enough to complete the current school year. C has been crying and seems depressed. F has tried to reassure her that the move does not mean the end of their relationship, but the sisters know that they will not have the educational and recreational opportunities – and the relationships with the other children – that they have at the Home.
D and E are brother and sister. There was a hearing a month ago, and at this point they are going home with their mother for a few days every other week. Their mother is very poor, and the situation is not good. She has two other daughters who live with other family members. D does not want to go, and she expressed this sentiment to the judge, who said she could have three more months in the Home. E is willing to go with his mother. F has noticed that when the children reach the age of about 12 or 13, they seem more reluctant to return to their families. She has noticed the same reaction in the very young children. The children in the middle seem more willing to be reunited with their families.
G is a young boy (6-years old) who is being reunited with his mother. At the beginning of the process, his mother expressed her lack of interest in taking him home, but now she wishes to take him. F worries that she is not ready to do this. The Home is trying to help her prepare herself to bring her child home.
It is worrisome to consider that the government cannot provide the families with funds for the care of these children. Poverty seems to no longer be an acceptable reason to institutionalize a child, but as F points out, it certainly does affect the ability of a family to provide medical care, education, and often adequate nurturing. She adds that from now on there will be a rapid turnover rate for the children in the Home. At present, the Home is declining to take any new children, in order to maintain the stability of the Home as much as possible for the 25 children still living in the Home.
The Home now has a full team – including a social worker and a psychologist.
I asked about H and I, who have been having a hard time of it since being reunited with their family (for example, H has stopped going to school). F hasn’t visited them recently, but she is planning a visit since it will soon be H’s birthday. F is hoping that the Home may be able to bring them back in some fashion.
The remarkable resiliency of the young people on the Leadership Team of the Home is demonstrated by the way in which they have transformed themselves from surrogate parents of these neglected children into a support team for the children’s families. F says, “The good thing is that we are able to work with the families. The big thing is to have the Home believe in them and be there for them (the parents).”. She explained that the families of these children often have little confidence in their ability to parent their own children, and she thinks that the Home can help them gain this confidence through the emotional, and sometimes the material, support of the Home. It reminded me of the crucial aspect of caregiving that involves empathizing, imagining the mind of the child. It is as if the Leadership Team were parenting the parents, imagining the mind of the parent, who then in turn can learn to imagine the mind of their child.
What F is articulating when she describes the shifting goal of the Home from an orphanage towards becoming a support team for the families is the essence of the aim of this blog – supporting the caregivers of the children in developing countries. Because of this, I have been considering changing the name of the mission of the blog from that of supporting caregivers of children in care, to simply, supporting caregivers of children in developing countries overseas. In that way I am including the biological parents as caregivers whom the blog intends to support.