Give a child a family - Foster Families as a model of care for Orphans and Vulnerable Children in Mozambique?
In 2006 approximately 1 600 000 children in Mozambique, under the age of 18, were orphaned mainly due to HIV and AIDS. This corresponds to 12-16% of the total population. Extended families are no longer capable of providing for more orphans given the severe economic constraints. Therefore, it is urgent to develop appropriate interventions and to support families caring for these children. Several different models of orphan care currently exist in the region with a variation in quality of care and the cost of providing it. One of the first and most recognized home-based care programs for terminally ill people in Mozambique was developed by an ecumenical association by the name of Kubatsirana, that during 2005 undertook a pilot program identifying and placing orphans in foster family care. The aim of this study was to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of the situation among foster children, foster parents and child headed households as a means to assess if foster family care is a model to improve the situation for orphans and vulnerable children in Mozambique. This study analysed the experience of 29 orphans (aged 10-16) living in foster family homes, 9 children (aged 7-24) living in child-headed households, (in total 27 boys and 11 girls), 31 foster carers (5 men and 26 women) and 7 community leaders. Interviews took the form of focus group discussions followed by structured individual conversations covering the following topics: foster parents’ motives, children’s needs, parents’ roles and qualities, experience of change, rewards and challenges as a foster child or foster parent, and cultural views. Results showed that foster parents are motivated by their own experience as orphans, widowhood, childlessness and Christian faith and compassion. One of the major rewards of being a foster parent is improved communication and relationship between spouses. Principle needs expressed both by foster parents and children are subsistence needs. Major challenges are self reliance, dealing with the experience of multiple trauma, cultural views, and attitudes among neighbours and family. The role of parents can be summarised as providers and protectors. Qualities such as love, faith and patience are regarded highly among both parents and children. Children desire more time with parents for play, telling stories, providing life skills and support with homework. All children tell how life has changed for the better. It is suggested that the success of the pilot phase of “Give a child a family program” is seen as linked to the 10 years experience of Kubatsirana in mobilizing the churches to care for OVC and PLWHA, the motivation and compassion based on the Christian faith, equality and bonding between children and foster parents. The continuing practice of assuming responsibility for the care of unrelated children in Mozambique demonstrates that there are individuals and families who welcome the opportunity to invest materially and emotionally in children who have lost their parents. The sustainability of this phenomenon, in a cultural context where unrelated family care has been viewed with suspicion, is linked to the adaptability of families and communities to meet new challenges. Substitute families in Mozambique have experienced minimal state intervention in terms of regulation or material support. However, they have been supported by a clear national policy of community based, non-institutional, care for orphans and vulnerable children, informed by principles of children’s rights. In 2006, the new family law was introduced including three forms of foster care. In order to achieve a successful scale up of the program, standards of assessment, screening, training and supervision need to be organized in close collaboration with Social Welfare and church leaders. All foster parents should take part in a training program. In order to more fully understand the circumstances of foster care further studies are needed to evaluate kinship, family and networks in Mozambique.