Happy New Year, everyone. This is a picture of me wearing the gift from my Shanghai hosts in front of my family Christmas tree. Now, I will leave the theme of Shanghai and return to El Salvador, where I am planning a new workshop next week.
The new Salvadoran law requiring all children in institutional care to be reunited with their biological families presents a crisis to orphanages in El Salvador. Many or most children in care are being returned to families who may not be prepared to receive them and care for them. Often, neither children nor families have chosen this transition and may feel afraid, sad, and angry. Community services to support the reunification in most cases do not exist. Orphanage administrators and workers were also unprepared to deal with these changes – to support the children, to support the families, and to support themselves and one another. Yet, it is also an opportunity to make positive changes in childcare. Many studies show that family care is superior to institutional care for the developing child (this is not uniformly the case, however). (McCall, J. N. (1999). Research on the psychological effects of orphanage care: A critical review. In R. B. McKenzie (Ed.), Rethinking orphanages for the 21st century. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.) Supporting care within the family may have more far-reaching benefits. Supporting care within the family and community preserves local institutional (such as church and others) and cultural assets.
The workshop (1) maintains a primary focus on the caregiving relationship – whether the relationship of the child and the orphanage caregiver, or the relationship of the child with the biological family caregiver, (2) the use of the “behavior of the child” (Touchpoints Model”, or the words of the child to communicate with the caregiver, and (3) an emphasis on opportunities for mastery. As in the Touchpoints Model, the workshop stresses a positive attitude and empathy towards caregivers, and a collaborative approach rather than advice from “experts”.
Here is an example of a case of a child being reunited with his mother: E is 6-years old. His mother has never taken care of him. She has had a hard life. She reports having been sexually and physically abused as a child, and she escaped from a children’s home when she was 16. She has always been dependent on men, seeming to lack the motivation to succeed on her own. She can be rude and act entitled to the help she wants from the Home. She claims strong moral values, but she struggles to live according to these values. For example, she is easily offended if she perceives E to be mistreated by someone, yet she will often mistreat other children. E is a competent child and generally has good relationships, but he is strong willed and able to play one adult against another when he is upset. The Home worries that he will try to control his mother and cause her to become discouraged or to give up.
The participants will be invited to discuss the case. Questions to begin the discussion might include: (1) What positive characteristics of the mother can the caregivers identify? (2) How can the caregivers find ways to empathize with this mother? (3) What are the mother’s goals and ambitions for E? (4) How can the caregivers communicate what they know about E to the mother and still emphasize her knowledge of her own child? (5) How can the caregivers support the mother in recognizing the problems they anticipate after the reunification? (6) What ongoing support do the caregivers think would be best for this family?