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Jordanian families become more accepting of foster care — official

By Sawsan Tabazah - Oct 18,2017 - Last updated at Oct 18,2017

AMMAN — When Sarah was born, she had narrow chances of receiving foster care due to her birth defects, but that did not stop her from finally finding a place in the hearts of her new foster family.

Sarah (some names in the story were changed for privacy concerns) is an 11-month-old abandoned infant who suffers from hip dislocation, eyesight and hearing problems from birth. 

“The first time we saw her, she stole our hearts and when I found out about her medical issue, I insisted on bringing her home,” Ali Ayham, the foster father, told The Jordan Times over the phone. 

Abeer Hawari, the director at the Department of Foster Care at the Ministry of Social Development’s (MSD) Family and Childhood Directorate (FCD), said that Jordanian community has become more accepting of foster care, which gives victims of disintegrated families and abandoned children the opportunity to live within a family, rather than growing up in a care centre.

Hawari noted that the programme that began in 2011, faced a lot of challenges, one of them being the search for appropriate foster families.

However, the initiative, funded by UNICEF in partnership with other governmental and nongovernmental institutions, has found loving homes for over 180 children, and currently has 150 other families on its waiting list, said Hawari. 

The foster care programme was developed after a study conducted by the government, UNICEF and Columbia University found that children living in foster families have less emotional and behavioural difficulties than those in care centres. 

Hawari said that the programme aims to place another 100 children in foster care by June 2018.

Yara Musleh, the child protection programmes director at Jordan River Foundation, said that a family’s home is the “best place for a child to live, where love, care, attention and protection are given better than any other place.”

“Different from adoption, which is forbidden in Islam, foster parenting [in which the child retains his or her original family name, or the one given by the state] is the best way to provide the child with the needed love,” Musleh added.

A specialised committee evaluates foster families by studying their social and psychological status as well as their ability and willingness to raise a child in a healthy environment, said MSD’s Spokesperson Fawaz Ratrout. 

“If the family is found eligible, the juvenile court must approve the placement of a child with the caregiver [foster family] to protect his or her rights,” Ratrout noted. 

Musleh said the child would stay with the foster family unless he or she is found to be abused or neglected during follow-up visits. 

Childless families, families with children and even single-mothers that have the willingness to provide foster care for children can apply to the programme, she continued. 

Around six single-mothers — widowed, divorced or unmarried women — have become foster caretakers to fulfil their maternal instinct, Musleh noted.

“My entire life has changed, my life had no meaning before him,” Diana, a foster single-mother said, describing her feelings after becoming a foster parent. 

The 42-year-old mother said that Sanad, her new infant, has filled her “previously empty life”. “My father, aunt, and friends encouraged me to take this step… being a mother is the best feeling ever,” she added.

The project’s psychologists and social workers teach foster parents ways to reveal the truth about the child’s background gradually, within a working plan that starts during preschool years, Hawari said. 

“Storytelling, drawing and simply talking to them are some of the ways this can be done,” she explained.

“The child might suffer serious psychological problems if he/she discovers the truth late. This could result in depression, drug addiction or suicide,” the director stressed. 

The programme also offers caregivers with a monthly subsidy to help them provide the child with basic needs.

However, many families prefer to save the children’s subsidies for when they grow older, Hawari noted. 

 

Family disintegration victims in foster care

 

This year, 15 victims of disintegrated families who suffered from parental negligence, abuse or waived custody by both parents, were moved from care centres to kinship care, according to CFD director Mahmoud Jboor. 

Reintegration of children suffering from negligence or abuse by their families is another branch of the programme, Jboor noted.

“Usually three or four siblings are victims of negligence or abuse. Sometimes, due to the lack of space in one centre, they are distributed across various care centres, which affects their psychological and social growth,” Jboor explained, stressing the importance of the family’s rehabilitation through social, psychological and financial support.

 

Reunion with biological mother 

 

Hawari noted that the programme coordinators clearly explain to foster families about the possibility of a biological mother taking back her child once she requests for reunion. 

Two mothers were reunited with their biological children under foster care after they proved their ability to provide their child with a secure life, Jboor said.

However, Sarah’s foster father Ayham said that he “can’t imagine what would happen if Sarah’s biological family came back requesting her custody”.

 

“I try to throw these thoughts away because I cannot imagine my life without her… people think she needs us but the truth is that we need her more,” Ayham concluded. 

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