Children in care homes who cannot visit their biological parents for various reasons, find a vacation home with foster parents. And if all goes well, they stay on for much longer.

Meet Keralas foster parents who give kids in care homes a loving family vacationImage for representation.
news Human Interest Wednesday, May 30, 2018 - 17:56

Leela* and Vijayan* from Kannur are busy shopping for the new school year. The couple is picking out books, a school bag, water bottle and sundry other things for 10-year-old Anjali, who came into their lives just two months ago. They are among 140 couple in Kerala who fostered children from care homes during the summer vacations – and in their case, the child has decided to stay on with them for another year.

Speaking to TNM, Anjali says that she wouldn’t leave her foster parents even if her biological mother comes back for her. "I thought I will be staying here with my foster parents only for two months. But I like it here... I will be staying here for one more year," she says.

Anjali came into Leela and Vijayan’s care through the Foster Care system being implemented by the Kerala government, as per the central government’s 2015 model guidelines under the Juvenile Justice Act. The scheme enables children who are growing up at different care homes to experience the love and warmth of a family during their vacations. Children who are willing to be a part of the scheme are sent to different families who have signed up to be foster parents. It can be a two-month vacation, or an extended stay.

Many such children who went into foster care for the summer holidays will be leaving their holiday homes soon as the new academic year is set to start.

Rajan* and his wife Latha* from Ernakulam district got an eight-year-old girl as their guest for two months. Though the couple already has two children, they wanted to provide a happy vacation for one more child.

"She came here in the first week of April. In the beginning, she was quiet, calm, and did not speak to us. But slowly she started enjoying being at home. We did not ask her anything about her past, as we know she would have had bitter experiences. For these two months, she was a member of the family and called us mother and father,” Rajan says.

While Rajan and Latha wanted the child to stay with them for longer, they decided against it as he is awaiting a transfer. "There is a provision to keep a child for one year under the foster care scheme. Even she wanted to stay here. But we had many practical issues. We will miss her terribly. After she left, the house seems empty," he adds.

Others, like Anjali, will be staying on for one more year. Leela says this is the first time she is experiencing motherhood.

"We don't have kids. Now suddenly we have a daughter, and the experience is thrilling!” Leela says. “We’ve started our school reopening shopping. When we get a new dress or a colourful umbrella for her, the excitement in her eyes is so beautiful. If she is willing, we will continue extending her foster care," she says.

In many of the cases, children find it very difficult to adjust with a new family and a new environment. Since many of them are not used to the institution of a family, some of them tend to go back to their care homes before the vacations end.

Subhadra, from Thiruvananthapuram, were fostering a boy in April 2017. “But he was not able to adjust in the family. He left us within 10 days, which was painful as we were very fond of him. But later, we got a daughter, and she is adorable,” she says.

Subhadra and her husband lost their only son years ago, and say that this child is a ray of sunshine for their family.

“She got close to me very soon and when I hear her calling me mom, I believe it is from her heart. After the vacations ended last year, my husband and I decided to extend the foster care to another year. This year, we have extended it once again. There are certain provisions to adopt the child if we keep her in foster care for five years,” Subhadra says.

"Buying her new clothes, bag, books and school materials prior to the academic year gives us a lot of pleasure. She has completed our family," she adds.

Balan Vengara, a writer and an employee at a village office in Kalpatta of Wayanad recalls that his foster child last year took many days to mingle with the family. Balan and his wife Khairunnissa have two sons, and wanted a girl child. “We expected a five-year-old, but we got a 14-year-old girl. She came home and did not speak to us for 12 days. But later she started talking and she became very close to us, " Balan says.

He also recalls that the girl had developed an attachment to the family and that she keeps in touch with them even now. "After she returned, we have visited her a few times, and she calls us if she needs anything,” he says.

Ensuring safety during foster care

It is crucial to ensure that the children who are sent into foster care are not abused, and the District Child Protection Units rule out any incidents that raise concerns about the safety of children since the scheme was implemented.

"As of now no child has complained about a bad experience he/she has faced with their foster family. We send children into foster care only after proper enquiry,” Thiruvananthapuram District Child Protection Officer (DCPO) KK Subair tells TNM.

Explaining the process of sending children into foster case, the officer says, “After receiving the application for foster care from the families, Child Protection Unit as well as the police conduct a detailed enquiry in the society where the family loves. We enquire in their workplaces, neighbourhood, family etc. We also analyse their family atmosphere to ensure that child will be safe. The foster parents should also have a good financial and societal status to take care of the child," the officer says.

Apart from that, officials from Child Welfare Committee also do a detailed follow up. "They regularly visit the child at our house and make frequent phone calls and speak to the child for a long time," Subhadra says.

Subair said that frequent contact of the officials with the children gives them a secure feeling.

"The child always has the option of coming back to us. They don’t have to stay with a family under any uncomfortable circumstances. They can stay only if they are willing. We keep in touch with them always," he says, adding that children’s feelings are their primary concern.

"We try our best not to separate siblings. They are sent together for foster care," he adds.

*Names changed

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