Their day begins early in the morning, before 8 AM. The foster parent who we are going to name Mrs. Nada, in order to protect the identity of the children in this story, plays with them and hugs them to get them easier out of bed, but still, they are almost always rushing not to be late for school. The two nine-year-olds, twins with disabilities, became members of Mrs. Nada’s family, whose own three children have already grown up. They were accepted into foster care after a long-term stay in an institution, in which all its small habitants are children with some kind of disability.
The Analysis of the State of Children without Parental Care, conducted in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2016, showed that as many as 91 percent of children with disabilities who are without parental care lived in institutional forms of protection, making up more than one quarter of the total number of children growing up in institutions. In most cases, parents leave them to the state to take care of them, out of need for a special kind of care.
This is also one of the reasons why children with disabilities who are without parental care are having the hardest troubles in finding a way to foster families.
Therefore, the story of Nada and her family is special for a number of things. It is also a part of the much wider, systematic efforts to protect the rights of children without parental care through the child protection reform, which implies transitioning from institutional to a much better, family-oriented form of care for children without parental care – foster care.
The support of foster care is, among other things, an important component of the program “Transformation of Child Care Institutions and Prevention of Family Separation”, implemented by UNICEF BIH together with competent ministries and relevant NGOs, and funded by the European Union. Social Work Centers are also among the partners of the program, as the first place for all the information about foster care, from assessment and training of foster parents, to support of these families, including the main heroes of this story.
“Mrs. Nada was interested in foster care, because she had previous contacts with foster care in her family – namely, her mother was also a foster parent. After she passed the training for foster parents, conducted by the Center for Social Work, in compliance with the standards of the competent ministry, we were certain that, granted she does not give up, she would also become a good foster parent for children with intellectual disabilities,” said Nikola Dorontić, a permanent guardian and social worker at the Center for Social Work in Banja Luka.
Unfortunately, in Bosnia and Herzegovina there is a small number of foster parents like Nada – interested in providing home to children with disabilities, who are at the same time without parental care.
Her boys made achieved certain progress in their host institution. They dressed and ate on their own, they had fun and were very focused on one another, and had formed a strong bond. However, the expert staff assessment was that the boys would have better conditions for the development of their potentials in a family surrounding and that staying in the institution would be disadvantageous for them.
“We knew that we would face challenges and difficulties, but at that moment we did not know that Mrs. Nada’s courage and attitude would overcome all the fears we harbored as professionals,” continues the employee of the Center, who is also the guardian of the boys.
Mrs. Nada visited the children even before formally establishing a foster care relationship. As she said, she wanted to spend more time with them and the staff who got to know them, in order to make the period of adjustment on all the novelties of family a bit easier.
The first few months were difficult. The children who do not know the family they are coming to, who would rarely speak, scared and trustful only of each other, and a woman who builds a family and a circle of support for new members.
“They understand everything and they know everything. When they have arrived, they used gestures to explain that they were thirsty, and today they can say a few words in a row, completely accurately and they can form sentences as well. They like having fun and participating in children’s shows,” says our foster parent.
These are just some of the indicators of the benefits for children who grow up in s family, but also of the significance of a foster parent’s competence in working with children with disabilities. In that sense, trainings targeting the acquisition of a specific set of knowledge and skills related to the developmental needs of children with disabilities are extremely important, as well as the professional support for the foster care parents by the social protection system, which Mrs. Nada also received.
All of the mentioned is also necessary for the biological families of children with disabilities, so that their separation would not occur.
The program “Transformation of Child Care Institutions and Prevention of Family Separation” includes the creation of a range of new services and benefits aimed exactly at providing support for the families at risk of separation. They also include day-care centers for children with disabilities. Mrs. Nada’s boys also attend one of these centers.
There, they receive the additional professional support, and are involved in the activities of all the associations that promote the rights of children with disabilities. Mrs. Nada already introduced the boys into all the spheres of her life and the lives of her children. As she would say, children are not strangers, but part of their family and their home. All those who spend time with older family members would also accept the children.
“It’s not easy, but it is not like I have not gone through all of this with my own children. School in the morning, the day-care center comes afterwards, in the evening there is dance or some event, and we take it slowly. However, what this children lacked was a warm, home-like atmosphere, they were devoid of it from the beginning to the end of the day.
On weekends, the neighbor takes them for a walk, my daughters take them to hang out with their friends, and they go to the seaside with us. There is no need for children to be devoid of anything, because we can provide them with what they need”, explains Nada.
On the other hand, the guardian and the Center for Social Work monitor the progress of the family as a whole.
“Foster parent Nada can be a role model not only to foster parents, but also to parents of children with disabilities, in terms of strengthening their functioning and providing adequate support to children. In addition, our role here is no longer only supervisory, but that of alliance, in order to create the adequate basis for children to grow up. Through our regular monitoring, meetings, conversation and agreement, foster parents receive all the support they need,” said Mr. Dorontić, the children’s guardian.
However, it is not just about making foster care a pretty episode in a life; thus, the foster parent Nada and the guardian are already thinking about the future.
“Everyone in the house got attached to the boys. There was also some talk about me taking a full-time job, but I think that foster care means being a part of the family, and not an obligation. The only thing I wouldn’t want for the boys is for them to be put back to institutional care after this”, says Nada.
The Center for Social Work is already preparing the cooperation with associations whose wards are adults with disabilities. The plans for supportive housing projects are underway.
“Regardless of fears at the beginning, there is no doubt now that we have found the best solution for these children. This is precisely what obliges us to make strategic changes and provide supportive housing. I think that boys, along with everything they receive in foster care and in the following period, will become the examples of the good practice in regards to how family surrounding stimulates the development of the potential of children with disabilities, Dorontić concludes.
The system of care and protection for children without parental care has not always been in the best interests of the child, in the way established by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The goal of the program “Transformation of Child Care Institutions and Prevention of Separation of Families” is to ensure that children without parental care, children at risk of separation from their families and children with disabilities enjoy equal rights and status as well as other children in BIH. And these rights include the right to family, health and education.
Source: For Every Child Blog