Life Outside the Comfort Zone

Mick Pease talks about following his calling, stretching his own belief in what he could achieve… and becoming an author.

Your book,  Children Belong in Families,  is now officially out. How does it feel to be a published author?

Weird – it feels really weird. I am proud of it and of what I have achieved, although I never realised there was a story there to be told. It started with suggestion from people I worked with over the years from Brazil to Uganda to Myanmar all saying same thing - I should write a book. Then an old friend Phil Williams contacted me who became my co-author. He is a published poet but had never written a book before – so I spoke it and he wrote it. Then he found an American publisher who was keen straight away, and it started from there. It’s really not something I ever expected to do.



What would you say was your aim in setting out the story of SFAC?

To re-purpose churches and organisations looking after vulnerable children to consider family-based care options including foster care instead of institutional care and to do it without being judgmental of what they already have in place. Essentially to encourage people to ask questions of themselves and their work with vulnerable children. I’m hoping that those who support orphanages have a ‘light bulb moment’ after reading about what are the real needs of children and what are the best ways of meeting their individual needs. We’ve all made the mistakes over years don’t let’s keep making those same mistakes.


So is that the underlying philosophy of SFAC?

Yes, the underlying philosophy is that wherever possible and safe children belong in families and not institutional care. We realise that for some children a family may not be possible for a number of reasons but let's make sure we have truly examined all the options with the parents, extended and family foster care before we resort to placing children into orphanages. Where organisations already have orphanages or children's homes we try to enlighten them and their donors about the more effective ways of supporting vulnerable children and families. 

SFAC’s approach is to ‘win’ people over rather than condemn or criticise. We like to build on strengths and help them develop better programmes. We don’t take the view that residential care is always bad for children, for some children it is necessary, but such a children’s home should be small, have trained, qualified and supervised staff with the right ratios of children. It's always about the child’s needs first and foremost. Not our needs and not the needs of the organisation or the donors. 

We also help those organisations who are interested in setting up family based care programmes that protect children and families and wish to avoid the traditional orphanage care route.

Importantly, we want to be available to all organisations regardless of size and budget - this means finding ways of covering costs for small, grassroots charities who would never normally be able to access the kind of training SFAC offers. Our donors make this possible.  


Were there areas where you felt you had to tread carefully in telling this story?

It was very important not to condemn anyone who had started their work with vulnerable children in good faith. People have worked within, and donated money to, approaches which could be seen as dubious, but have done so in good faith and that needs to be respected. We have all acted naively at some time in our life. A lot of people want to know why they should change systems they have been working with for years or why they should consider starting something different – winning them over by understanding the issues is how we effect change. And that is what I call ‘the ripple effect’ – although that does not always translate well into other languages! It’s about throwing a pebble into the water by introducing ideas to workers in the field who will then pass them on to all those they come into contact with, not just other professionals but family, community and friends, places people like me will never reach. It was important to acknowledge these informal networks and the different ways in which systems operate. It’s about changing generational mindsets about the value of children.


Where does Christianity fit into what you and what SFAC are trying to achieve?

SFAC is not a Christian charity, but we have a strong Christian ethos. That said, we work equally well with people who don’t have the same faith but who understand the purpose and intention behind our faith. It’s about mutual respect. This is not about bringing people or their children to Jesus. We have had Christian workers ask if we are saying that it is better to put a child in a Muslim family than in a Christian orphanage, and the answer is “Yes”. It is really vital to understand that the child is the centre of what we do – not the faith, not the organisation, not the social worker – the child.  It is their life, their family, their community, their future we are affecting and what we say and do will be with them for the rest of their lives. We must take this responsibility seriously.


With that in mind, what is your principal hope for the book?

Of course, I am hoping that people find it a good an enjoyable read, but my main focus is changing hearts and minds about how we look after vulnerable children. I would love to think this book could really make a mark for years to come in how people view separating children from their families without good reason and taking all their emotional foundations and origins away from them. At worst, for some children it can destroy their life, for others they will overcome but will still carry those emotional scars for the rest of their life. If I can in some way influence the global community that well developed, family based care programmes are a much more natural, healthier and even, where appropriate, biblical way to look after children that would be wonderful.


Parts of the book deal with your own childhood and family background, particularly your older sister who was in residential care. How do you feel about that and why was including it significant?

I had never previously thought about how my sister Pam’s situation had influenced my motivation. She had chronic asthma after she was born and the medical advice our parents received was clear – that she would have died in the grimy industrial town where we lived. It was such a dirty environment with much industry just after the 2nd World War ended. She was away from home for about four years and remembers leaving home when I was “a babe in arms”. I never saw her for almost 4 years. She was in a children’s home for supposed medical care, but she was the only one on her ward who came out alive and she could never tell Mum and Dad what happened there. They got to hear about her ordeal shortly before they died. Imagine how that made them feel about the decision they made to permit her to leave home under medical advice.

Hopefully the personal stuff illustrates the story and why I have reached the place I am at. I’m pleased that it has a meaningful purpose and that there is a much bigger point in there than just my story – it’s about changing hearts and minds about how they respond to the vulnerable children they care for.


Mick's sister, Pam, walking with their parents.

How else do you think your own background led you to this point, and what were the sacrifices and challenges along the way?

I would describe it as a sense of calling. I never knew that unqualified people like me with little ambition could achieve anything. Growing up I was often told I would amount to nothing by my extended family. I was trouble and a rogue. But then, if I started to be more positive and self-assured told quite firmly that “pride cometh before a fall” and not to get above “my station”. No wonder I always saw myself as a number two, a helper – never as a leader.

I started working life as a miner, the last place my mother wanted me to work but was at the time secure employment although that was to change. The biggest sacrifice was after 10 years leaving mining and selling our first house to go to Bible college prior to all of this. I had no idea where it was all heading except for the sense of calling, but it got me to study and then to have the confidence to go for social work training. Leaving the pit was a huge commitment at that stage of my life, married, a young parent of two small children leaving family, community and friends. It was only my faith that made it happen. It seems that I have spent lots of my life living outside my comfort zone – and I can’t really explain why just that it feels that way.


And the effect on your family life?

Brenda and I had been married 26 years when we first went out to Brazil to work, and thankfully our two sons Mark and Kevin had both grown up by the time we started travelling abroad regularly. During our 12 months in Brazil Brenda did struggle more than I did with the emotional loss of family and with being abroad and so on. It was all a huge a leap of faith.


What do you think the book will give them?

I am thrilled that my sons will know me more through it, and my grandchildren in due course even if they are not interested right now. They know about “grandad’s book” and there will be a legacy impact. That ties in with the whole general purpose – children in orphanages lose that personal legacy once separated from their origins that would have come to them through all the family stories, and life often is about the power of a story, your life, your family, your community, your friends, your own purpose and opportunities in life.


So, what next for Mick Pease and for SFAC?

Well, unlike most I’ve spoken to in this line of work, I’ve never had a plan, this has been a journey of ongoing faith and being stretched! I’ve never been sure how to recognise success and I’ve never planned for it although obviously I wanted it to succeed. But SFAC is now becoming a more multi-disciplinary organisation and there are others who have to take it on. There is a huge global movement towards change and SFAC has been a part of that for 20 years. But not only us, there were a few others saying similar things around that time, but I have to say I often felt like a lone voice early on. But now, many other organisations are adopting the same approach, family first and it’s become a more positive and supportive environment to work in. I don’t see myself retiring yet, this has never been a job to me rather a way of life. So I always anticipate some involvement – but also some letting go has to happen.


Visit to order on a copy of the book. 

Interview conducted by Mary Jolley, retired social worker and former journalist.

Fundraising of Olympic proportions

When self-confessed couch potato Graham Pollard hit on a plan to improve his
fitness – and along the way roped in his friend Nick Porthouse – it was good news for SFAC.

The two men, who have been friends since their teenage years and are now in their forties, will be taking on the Castle Howard Triathlon on 22nd July, and raising money for SFAC in the process.

Nick, who works for a software delivery company, was initially sceptical when Graham, a children’s social worker, told him he was planning to give up alcohol for a year and focus on a fitness programme of what seemed like monumental proportions.

Graham, however, was determined that this was no joke and was clear about his aim to get in better shape. As the father of two small children he wanted to improve his energy levels and be a positive example to them.

Once Nick had accepted the challenge there was no going back – although he does recall reflecting wryly, at the Leeds Half Triathlon which was part of their training schedule, that the organiser who cheerfully commented “no one has forced you to be here!” didn’t know the half of it. Neither of them had tackled anything like this level of sustained exercise and training before, and at the start Graham was the stronger swimmer and Nick the fastest runner of the two. Both of them have hugely improved and credit each other’s support – and a bit of healthy rivalry – for the progress they have made.

Sponsorship for SFAC was Graham’s idea – he has known SFAC’s Dan Hope through their professional lives and admires the charity’s aims and methodology. On a personal level, he felt that it enhanced the experience for him: “Doing something like this is such a personal culture change you want, if you can, to raise money for
something worthwhile along the way.” Nick, too, is raising money through personal sponsorship, but has also secured a £500 donation from his employer, Equal Experts, a software delivery company with an established culture of supporting employees in their individual endeavours. The company was highly placed in a national award for the quality of employee experience in 2017/18, and Nick feels the donation they have made is an example of that culture.

The triathlon which Graham and Nick are undertaking is Olympic distance, involving a 1500 metre open water swim – in this case, in the Great Lake at Castle Howard – a 45 kilometre cycle, and a 10 kilometre run. No mean feat, then, for two men who a year ago had not done anything of the kind, and it has not always been a smooth ride.

At the start of their training Graham had a slipped disc which limited the extent of his progress, and he then suffered a broken wrist – coming off his bike while cycling home from the gym – which was a further setback. None of it put him off, although both he and Nick both recall with some horror their encounter with a seemingly endless swarm of mosquitos while open water swimming. They also momentarily questioned their choice of event venue – having mistakenly assumed that Castle Howard would be a fairly flat course and then, when they went for a trial run, discovered a cycle ride that even the organisers describe as “hilly”.

Undaunted, they are now fitter, leaner and ready for the challenge on 22nd July, and SFAC will be better off for their sterling efforts – and your donations.

Missing family… the pain of separation and the choices we make.

When you live half a world away from your family missing them is a permanent undercurrent of life. Mostly sitting below the surface, sometimes it pops up and surprises you. Other times it can feel like a physical ache. This past Sunday was Mother’s Day in Australia and yesterday (May 15) was International Day of the Family so, not surprisingly, my family has been on my mind.


The missing them is balanced with the tension of knowing this separation exists by my choice - one of those difficult life decisions Dan and I had to make when we chose to be a family unit of our own. I’m very conscious that our choice was made easier by the resources available to us, resources that allow us to travel back to Australia every year or two and to see and talk to my family frequently online.


As I’ve counted my blessings and recognised my privilege, my thoughts have drifted to the children and families I’ve worked with in the past and those SFAC’s partner organisations work with every day.


So as I miss my family this week, I, along with my colleagues here at SFAC, want to acknowledge the millions of other families around the world who are experiencing far more painful separations...



To the mother in Uganda who reluctantly agreed to release her son into the care of an orphanage director believing he would receive an education she couldn’t provide. Only to discover, perhaps too late, the director was planning to sell her boy to an international adoption agency...

We see you.


To the father in India considering selling his daughter into domestic slavery in a desperate attempt to provide for the rest of his family…


We see you.


To the boy living on the streets of Lesotho because he’s terrified to return home to an abusive parent…


We see you.


To the parents in Mexico who placed their child in a children’s home because they’re both working 12 hours shifts just to put food on the table and there’s no one to ensure their children won’t be kidnapped by gangs while they’re at work…


We see you.


To the Burmese girl abandoned on the Thai border by her parents in the hope she’d have a better life in Thailand than they could give her in Myanmar…


We see you.


To the Cambodian family who gave their children up years ago when extreme poverty made caring for them feel impossible and is now feeling apprehensive because they’ve been told their children might be coming home. The orphanage has learnt children are better off in safe families and decided to reunite families where possible. Now they’re realising they’re not quite sure how to be a family anymore… and how will they provide for them?


We see you.


To the new foster parents in Morocco looking after a boy with a horrible history and struggling to know how to best care for him and themselves.


We see you.


We see you all.


We will tell your stories.


We will be changed by them and motivated to act.


We will work with decision makers, policy makers, with carers, with social workers and psychologists, lawyers, judges and government officers.


We will use the resources available to us and do our best to reunite your families, to strengthen them and find support. Where that’s not possible or safe, we’re working to help people in your country establish foster care and domestic adoption programmes, and, in some cases, very small, child-focused children’s homes. We want to ensure that separation occurs only in situations of abuse and neglect, and that when this happens the children removed are still given the opportunity to experience love, care and a sense of belonging and connection to someone special.


This photo was taken last year at SFAC’s 15th birthday celebrations when my parents flew half way around the world to surprise me and Dan. I love it because it captures the joy, love and connection of that moment – a moment of family.


To children everywhere, we will do our utmost to uphold your right to grow up in a safe family1 so that you too can experience these moments and thrive.



  1. Article 9. UN Convention for the Rights of a Child


Photo: Taken by Walter Young, embellishments added by me to send to Mum for Mother’s Day.


Farewelling Brenda

After 16 years of volunteering and working for SFAC, Brenda has retired. She is looking forward to being able to spend more time with her family, especially the grandkids. 

SFAC will always be very grateful to Brenda for all her ‘behind the scenes’ work to keep the charity organised! We know Mick is very grateful that someone can sort out his expenses receipts!!!

Brenda’s vision, passion, dedication, commitment to and support of SFAC is a reflection of her own values - the very same values SFAC promotes. Her life and work are a practical demonstration of her belief that the family is the bedrock of providing support, love and care.

We wish Brenda all the best in her well-deserved retirement. 

From everyone at SFAC,


Where in the World is Mick Pease?!

The last six months have been flat out for our team. Here’s a quick recap of what Mick’s been up to and what Brenda thinks about it!

Updates on the activities of other team members to come...


Mick’s Mission:

To collect as many air miles as possible in a short space of time!

(Maybe he’s planning to take Brenda on a holiday to celebrate her recent retirement?)

Brenda’s Mission:

To finally get Mick to slow down…


Who will win?!


Six Month Status Update:

International Trips: 6

Airport visits: 30

Airlines: 16

Flights: 32

Countries visited: 5


India (twice)


South Africa


Cities visited: 10

Organisations partnered with: 9

Partner visits to the UK: 1 - a team of government officials from Kurdistan. This last visit didn’t require travelling any further than Leeds city centre so, finally, there’s a point to Brenda!

Total Air Miles?! Around 60,000 (that’s a quarter of the way to the moon!)

People equipped to provide best practice care for vulnerable children: around 200!!

Life in an Orphange

Stephen Ucembe’s powerful testimony of life in an orphanage illustrates the reason for why SFAC exists. The presentation is short (15 minutes) and worth a watch when you have some spare time.

Stephen’s presentation talks about the disadvantages of a life in an orphanage and how he wants other children to avoid a similar life. In my view, the most telling point is the emphasis he places on the lack of emotional interaction he had with any carer. He talks about how he did not receive a loving, affectionate hug, how he could not cry, that he does not feel able to be a parent yet, and that he felt like he was in a zoo. Hardest of all was the statement that he did not know love. It is heart-breaking to hear that his first experience of love was the word ‘love’ being used in a Christmas present he received from a stranger in the UK.

This loss of any emotional connection in his life is described so powerfully by his assessment that ‘[t]he pain of losing a loving a parent is not as immense as the pain of never living with one.’

The pain of having spent the majority of his life where he did not feel special or feel like he belong to anyone was immense. He describes that he was just another child who had to be like every other child in the home. He, and all the other children received food and a place to live, but were not able to be an individual that was loved and cherished. He summaries this eloquently ‘It is not the food, clothes or where I slept that defined me. It is the emotional pain…’

Stephen asked a question in his presentation that we often ask in our training, ‘Would you place your child in an institution?’ The response is universally no. So why do we do anything different?

Children need to feel loved and they need to feel cared for by someone special to them. A family is the best method we know in how to provide this. If it cannot be your own family, then can this safely be provided by another family? Most often it can.

This is why SFAC exists. To train organisations to provide safe, family based care and move away from an orphanage model of care that can bring so much pain and emotional loss for children.

– Dan Hope

A Fostering Future for Morocco

SFAC is always keen to extend its message to new communities and support the growth of local initiatives. Recently, Mick Pease and Walter Young travelled to Morocco – a first for SFAC and a hugely worthwhile step in an area where the standard response to children in crisis has been institutional placements.

As is often the case, the request for assistance came through a previous SFAC contact who advised that they needed to contact SFAC. This led to Dr Chris Hands, founder of the Moroccan Children’s Trust, speaking to Mick Pease about a fledgling foster care project in the small city of Taroudant which needed a sound practice base.

The Moroccan Children’s Trust works in partnership with the Association Fondation Amance Pour la Protection de l’Enfance (a local child protection charity) and together they were seeking better and more child-sensitive ways to manage the needs of children in need of alternative care. The initial behavioural issues or social problems could be quite minor, but the consequences for the children were traumatic and there was a growing sense that this could be dealt with so much better.

During their trip they had the opportunity to see at first hand the current provision in Taroudant, a traditional Moroccan community with an historic old town about an hour away from the busy tourist resort of Agadir, when they were invited to visit a local children’s home. They found children from infancy onwards with one carer attempting the impossible task of meeting all their needs.

Placement in these children’s homes has been the only solution for the social workers managing their care, but the hope now is that the training provided by SFAC will encourage the authorities to have the confidence to pass on the message that there are Family Based Care solutions as a workable alternative. Some of the social workers are in direct contact with the judiciary and uniquely placed to make the case for change.

Mick and Walter ran a week-long training programme for 16 local professionals in early October 2017, with the aim of equipping the staff with knowledge and skills from which they can go on to build a programme suited to their community and its needs. Topics included the process of developing a safe foster care programme, how to assess foster carers, how to support foster carers, how to match children with foster carers, deciding which children need foster care, and care planning. Participants included social workers already involved in the project, others working with court tribunals placing children, and one who is the director of a children’s home. All of them were new to the concept of fostering and how to apply it in their particular circumstances.

The Moroccan project is in its early stages, but SFAC was pleased to see good preparatory work in place for the selection of foster carers and the establishment of a fostering panel. Initial contacts have been made to identify children, aged between 6 and 14, who will benefit from the project as a direct alternative to placement in an institution.

Mick hopes that this message can be carried forward and is confident in the commitment of the social workers he and Walter met during a memorable trip – “Their enthusiasm was very inspiring, and their thirst for knowledge and information. It was such a privilege to meet and assist people in a country we have not been to before and continue to strengthen the message children thrive in safe families”. As for the training the responses were very enthusiastic and positive with one saying “I learned a lot about the concept of foster family, which I didn’t know before. It was an opportunity to learn about attachment, care plans, the development of the child, ways of learning and many other things.… Thank you very much”.  

Where we’ve been: India- Offspring

The work of SFAC also ensures that the concept of safe families includes, wherever possible, the promotion of families for life. This is in recognition of the fact that the need for a reliable and safe support network does not miraculously cease with the end of what is generally identified as childhood, and that all of us function better in life if we have a family – however that is constructed – with which to identify and offer us support or protection when we need it.

The Offspring Project is an Australian non-profit organisation working with women who have been freed from the sex-trafficking trade, and SFAC has links with them in Kolkata, India, through the work of psychologist Dr Caitlin Lance Hope. Caitlin has specialist skills in trauma recovery and has lived and worked in Kolkata.

The project works with young women aged 17 to 25 who have been rescued from sexual exploitation that leaves them emotionally and physically vulnerable, and they are also likely to be the mothers of small children without traditional family support of any kind. These children are very vulnerable to being placed in orphanages and so the cycle of abandoned children continues.

The Offspring Project aims to identify when it is safe or possible for a young woman to return to her own family, and to work with those in shelters or even in community alternatives (developing adult foster care families). Offspring’s work aims to improve self-esteem and the women’s abilities to manage their own lives and be safe.

SFAC has been involved in working with the Offspring Project on the necessary assessments to facilitate this process, and on the healing of trauma and emotional self-care. SFAC offers on-line consultation and visits which is adapted to the context of the work and the abilities of those employed by Offspring.

The workers in the project are local Indian people of varying personal backgrounds and experience, with differing levels of educational attainment and expertise, but a common goal to enhance the lives of the young women and their children. Training often involves the use of pictures and visual aids as not all the employees, or the women who receive the support, are literate.

The women at the project are also involved in helping it raise money through initiatives which include craft projects, and some of tonight’s auction items are examples of their work.

Where we’ve been: Uganda- CALM Africa

One of SFAC’s partner organisations is CALM Africa, a Ugandan charity that works with children at risk of abuse and neglect. One such family, which came to the attention of SFAC when CALM Africa asked for advice, involved a boy of 14 looking after four younger sisters and brothers in rural Uganda. Both parents had disappeared and the usual route would have been for the children to be placed in an orphanage. There would have been two major traumatic consequences: they would probably not have been able to stay together, and their land, which was their inheritance, their current source of food and income, and their future, would have been lost to them.

The imaginative solution which has helped this family, and others since, is the concept of Child Headed Households. This works by identifying people in the local community who can help out – by visiting daily to ensure the children are fed, attending school and have access to any necessary medical care – while the children remain together in their present home. The people involved are in essence foster carers at arm’s length as they do not have the children living with them, but they are assessed and appropriately trained to support the family group in their own home. They are often from materially poor circumstances but are able to provide an emotional connection and safe care that is sufficient to meet these children’s needs.

The concept was developed with SFAC support after a visit by Dan Hope and Mick Pease, and remains locally run and organised. Through training and assessment CALM Africa identify which families this support can be offered to and which children are too vulnerable

for such support. Child Headed Households are a feature of life in rural Uganda and with a shortage of foster carers and all the problems associated with orphanages, this is a current response that works with the local community to safeguard children. For example, CALM Africa also identified a local farmer who mentored and employed the older boy so he could learn skills to farm his own land and become self-sufficent.

SFAC coming to CALM AFRICA was the turning point. They gave us the information, support and advice to help keep children in families in their own communities. They made us realise it was possible even though I initially thought it was not!’ – Joseph Luganda

CALM Africa has moved from a position of some scepticism about fostering to taking a leading role in establishing the principle of family-based care throughout Uganda in different ways that work even in areas of significant poverty.

Joseph Luganda, now head of foster care with CALM Africa, regards the initial contact with SFAC in 2011 as a turning point, both personally and for the organisation. He credits SFAC with changing their perception of the best place for a child to grow, and persuading them that something they never thought would work was in fact the way forward. He is proud of the fact that CALM Africa now champions the promotion of community-based foster care in Uganda and has been instrumental in ensuring that this is enshrined in Ugandan government policy. His colleague James Ssekiwanuka echoes these sentiments, and recalls positive outcomes from SFAC training in child protection and fostering, along with information-gathering visits to the U.K. to look at the system in practice. Both of them confirm a decrease in institutional child care in their country and a growing confidence in family-based alternatives.

They also thank the support that they received from SFAC as they were unable to receive this help from others as they could not afford to pay for training or consultation advice. Through SFAC paying their own flights, accommodation and not charging any fees CALM Africa was able to receive this training and even visit the UK with SFAC support to see how foster care operates in the UK; information they have been able to use to support its growth in Uganda.

Where we’ve been: Brazil- Abba

Achieving significant positive change for individuals and small groups can often go hand in hand with major cultural shift in the way issues are viewed and managed.

The Abba project has worked in Sao Paolo, Brazil, since 1992 with a focus on street children, initially using children’s homes to provide care for them.

It was clear to the workers involved that the children yearned for and needed a family environment, and a project to place them in local families commenced, but they encountered resistance and problems associated with the operation of this model. Delton Hochstedler is technical coordinator of Abba and explains what happened when Abba met SFAC at a conference in a nearby city and shared some of these issues with Mick Pease. What followed was a training initiative that helped overcome some of the difficulties they were facing. Delton is clear that Abba’s partnership with SFAC – which has been running now for almost as long as SFAC has been in existence – has been a huge influence not just for them but on a wider scale too.

He describes how it was not just children and families who felt the benefit, but also psychologists and social workers working with them. It also grabbed the attention of judges and policy-makers seeking to put a better system in place.This has led to SFAC and Abba coordinating training for the judiciary in a number of Brazilian states, with Ranjit Uppal visiting with Mick to deliver this training.

Abba has continued to train and assess families, and last year the organisation was granted full government certification and funding. Delton believes that SFAC helped by showing them where they needed to make improvements and, crucially, how they could improve. He is clear that what they now have in place is a model for quality child care which is influencing the development of similar initiatives throughout Brazil.