Foster Care Roundtable

2006 Eastern European Summit on Children at Risk

Round Table Discussion on Foster Care family support programs
An important aspect of these programs is the formation by foster parents of support groups. Such groups have been meeting for almost two years in the Volgograd region and play a central role in their overall efforts to prevent orphanhood.

Features of the Volgograd model

  • Parents and children work together with other civic organizations.
  • The support group determines the requirements for giving assistance to children and families based on their views and concepts.
  • They coordinate with social and state workers involved foster care and evaluate their effectiveness. In such a way, the family goes from being a passive recipient of services to an initiator and an influencing force as a direct participant in changing social policy. As a result, the situation of the child in the family has become more stable, improving the quality of life, and preserving a child’s right to a family, positive socialization and a normal future.

Practices of the Foster Care Family Support Group
The foster care family support group brings together people, who want to see change for the better not only for themselves but others involved in foster care as well. The support group is led by the participants themselves and allows them to share their feelings and experiences. This gives each person a unique sense of empathy and support. The group also brings together those who have practical information and methods in overcoming the difficulties in dialoguing with officials.

Since May of 2005, support groups have met more than 40 times in two districts of Volgograd. The meetings for adults occur once every two weeks and the meetings for children happen once a quarter. Currently there are more than 70 families involved in the support care program. In these families are 85 children, including 78 orphans.

There is a set agenda for each meeting containing the following points:

  1. Circle of Solidarity- communication by group participants of any news in the life of their family, discussion of problems requiring immediate action.
  2. Personal Resources for Encouraging Foster Care Families- deciding organizational questions concerning the group’s activities; actions of support; collection, summarization, and analysis of experience
  3. Story of a Family- A story from one of the foster care families in testimony to the successful socialization of an orphan.
  4. Government and Social Resources- resources for support of foster care families from the government; content and method of their actions of support for families
  5. Meeting with Experts about Specific Topics- extended guarantee of the child’s right to medical services etc.
  6. Planning for the Next Meeting- homework (filling out questionnaire, bringing family photographs etc.)

From the first meeting, it became evident that the foster parents were worried about the same things. It turned out that within the group, there were those who had experience to resolving many the common but difficult situations. A discussion started up by sharing experiences. The participants progressed from deciding personal issues to discussing general problems in the foster care system. They began to think of how they could share their experiences and understanding with other foster parents and how they could work in accord with officials.

The group also intends to have serious dialogue with government officials. Some of the questions to be posed to official include, Why are foster families not considered as having “many children?” When will newly formed foster families receive their initial aide? How is the opinion of foster parents taken into account in evaluating the work of state agencies? How can the attitude of society be changed toward foster care? and so forth.

The attitude of the families in the group involved in the project gradually changed. The foster parents became more active, more solid, and more confident in the assertion of their children’s interests. They learned a lot of new information in the spheres of legal rights, social advocacy, citizen initiatives, and about conducting dialogue with officials. Foster parents and children also learned to resolve conflicts using psychology. Children say that they are better understood and that the atmosphere in the family has become warmer and more comfortable.

The group gives a good deal of attention to showing the positive side of foster care. It is well known that the attitudes toward foster care are controversial. The general public knows little about the real difficulties or the positive side of foster care. The mass media more often focuses on tragic incidents that occur rather than highlighting the joy and happiness of foster care.

The group works to make sure the difficulties of foster care are not exaggerated and that the successes don’t stay in the dark. This increases the attractiveness of foster care in the eyes of the general public as a method of creating families for orphans, prompting potential parents to take on the upbringing and care of children left without parental care.

This work is focused on improving the defense and guarantee of orphan rights and at the same time it lowers the rate of second generation abandonment, by strengthening the foster care program in Volgograd.

The activities of the foster care family support group works to assist foster parents in deciding their own problems and increasing their ability to conduct dialogue with and defend their interests before officials.

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