– by Esmé Brink

It’s a Friday morning; a phone is ringing.  A woman answers, the call doesn’t take long, she nods in agreement while listening attentively to the caller on the other side.  Three hours later her doorbell rings. When she opens her front door, her heartbeat increases ever so slightly as she looks at the 3-year old child standing on her doorstep, his eyes haunted, his gaze scared.  “He needs a bath”, says the social worker who brought him.  It is in that moment when June, a registered safety and foster parent, bends down locking eye contact with the child in front of her. “Do you like bubbles?”, she says smiling.  “Come let me show you your room”.

The above scenario is not often spoken about, yet happens daily in the world of social services and foster care – a sacred partnership between a social service organisation and a volunteer.  A volunteer who doesn’t ask “How can you expect me to care for another person’s child?” But rather “How can I look after for a child in need of care and protection?”. It often starts with only a thought in the mind of a person who has the means and loves children enough to begin this grace-filled journey.

It’s considered a calling when a family opens their hearts and home to a child in need, but it’s also an incredible blessing for both parties.   According to Renee Pretorius, Manager: Social Services at Badisa, these children are ideally placed with families where the family values have been strongly developed, and the exposure to a healthy family becomes a healing and rewarding experience for the foster child.

Yet, the amount of children requiring this service currently far outweighs the amount of registered foster parents available.  Many children in South Africa are abused, exploited and marginalised daily. There is a great need for families who can provide a home for these children.

The questions

Many questions are being asked by potential parents interested in taking on this vital role.  Some of the questions include:

  • What are the requirements to become a safety of foster parent?
  • Will our family be good enough for a child who needs an alternative family?
  • Do I need special parenting skills?
  • How do we equip ourselves for this task?
  • How much love will be enough?
  • What kind of assistance can I expect from a social worker?
  • What are my rights and responsibilities?
  • Is there financial support and how do we access it?

A registered social worker will be able to discuss each of these concerns with prospective parents to put their mind at ease, yet often just the willingness to become a foster parent is enough to get the process started.

The purpose

The purpose of foster care includes to:

  • Protect and nurture children by providing a safe, healthy environment with positive support;
  • Promote the goals of permanency planning, first towards family reunification or by connecting children to other safe and nurturing relationships intended to last a lifetime;
  • Respect the individual and family by demonstrating respect for cultural, ethnic and community diversity.

The process

The process begins when social services are alerted about a child in high-risk circumstances who require care or protection.  This can include children who have been neglected, abused or whose parents are substance dependent, thereby endangering the life of the child.  A social worker will undertake a risk assessment, and if she/he finds that the caregivers of the child cannot ensure the safety of the child, the child will be removed to temporary safe care for 90 days while the allegations are investigated. Once the social worker has finalised her report, and the Children’s Court has ruled, the children are placed in foster care or a child and youth care centre. The foster care order is reviewed every two years to determine whether the circumstances of the biological parents have changed to such an extent that the child can be returned to their care or if the child needs to be placed for a further period.

Badisa has various foster parents with heart-warming stories to tell. Some parents have been able to adopt the children placed in their care, while others have fostered many children throughout their lifetime, with each child being either released to other family members or reunified with their parents if circumstances allowed.  These parents often tell you that they remember everyone and that each child had a special quality.

How is a foster parent approved?

A foster parent will be screened through an intimate questionnaire about their background, marriage, parenting skills, discipline methods and their involvement in their church and community.  The social worker will also conduct a home visit to ensure that the child will be provided with a safe environment, that the family has the means to care for the children and that other family members or siblings have been informed and are ready to share their home.

Their status will be checked on the child protection register, and they would also need to obtain police clearance.  Once all the regulatory paperwork has been finalised the Department of Social Development will issue a Form 39, which formally appoints the foster parent. 

What are the responsibilities of a foster parent?

Foster parents should provide in the daily needs of the children in their care. If applicable, they should ensure that the children attend school and discipline them without subjecting them to any form of physical violence or indignity.  They have to act in the best interest of the child’s physical, emotional and social development and allow the child to integrate with the family and experience acceptance and security.  They also have to allow the child to see their biological parents (usually at the office of the social worker) and provide their co-operation to the social worker assigned to the case.

What are the rights of safety/foster parents?

They will make daily decisions that are relevant to the child and have a reasonable right to privacy so that they are not threatened by the biological parents.  They have the right to be adequately informed about the risks of the children being placed.  They will have access to a foster child’s scholastic history, assessments and achievements to provide in their needs.  They don’t have to pay any school fees for a child placed in their foster care if the child attends a public school. They are entitled to a grant issued by the Department of Social Development. However, they should still have financial means, since the grant only provides for the needs of the child.

Badisa’s partnership with Kin Culture      

Just like Badisa, Kin Culture is a non-profit organisation where orphans and vulnerable children are placed in a home with a family to love and nurture them. They have an active drive to recruit foster parents, and Badisa has an agreement with Kin Culture whereby they provide us with approved foster parents if we require them. Because Badisa delivers child protection services on behalf of the Department of Social Development our case loading is often exorbitant, and this is where Kin Culture provides valuable support to train and support our foster parents.  Foster parents are also able to slot into their network and learn from each other.

What you need to know

Children, who have been removed from their parent’s care, have experienced trauma and they will struggle to trust adults and to really love them.  In many instances, the children will continue to have contact with their parents and families, which often complicate the work of a foster family.  Unconditional love and acceptance are required, yet the rewards and the knowledge that you are making a difference in the life of a child are priceless.

What have I learned?

I am also a foster parent and have cared for six very different children over the past six years. What have I learned?

  • There are more significant problems out there than the small issues I sometimes worry about.
  • When you can make a child smile, God also smiles.
  • There are small, yet essential things that I can teach a child that I may have already forgotten about.
  • It made me understand the father heart of God and that He loved me unconditionally before I knew Him.
  • There is a much bigger plan than the plans I made today.
  • Every parent deserves a second chance.

Audrey Hepburn once said.

“As you grow older, you will find that you have two hands, one for helping yourself and the other for helping others. Often when we set out to make a difference in the lives of others, we discover that we really made a difference to our own.”

When you volunteer your time as a foster parent, you are not paid in money, but in love. These children might forget what you did for them and taught them, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

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