A Pop Star and Foster Care in Romania.
We were out in the middle of Bucharest, capital of Romania one evening and wanted to know where we could catch the 336 bus back to the hotel. We asked a passer-by where the University bus stop was in slow, careful English, hoping he would understand.
Fortunately, he understood perfectly. Unfortunately, he was Irish…
“Sorry, I’d love to help you mate but haven’t a clue. I’m from Belfast”.
We should have known that you can’t necessarily tell who a person is from just looking at them. We’d been talking about exactly the same thing earlier in the day!
There were three of us in Team SFAC that week: Mick, Mandy and myself. We were in Bucharest training social workers, psychologists and foster carers, and one of the subjects we’d been asked to cover was identity. For children who are looked after away from their birth families, their identity can be hidden, even though for them it’s highly significant. Identity is something precious and fragile that must be nurtured, preserved and built up, carefully and deliberately, so that it isn’t forgotten.
One of the exercises we offered was to ask every member of the group 22 questions about their background, birth family and personal history. Most people can answer at least 15, but one person in the group managed 5. She had been adopted as a baby and she agreed to explain to her friends and colleagues what this had meant for her. When participants bring their own life experiences into a session like this it becomes so much more powerful.
There were many such examples of courage and honesty throughout the week. We heard about people who had fostered for many years before it became part of the fabric of children’s social care in Romania. We spoke to Social Workers who put themselves at risk to protect children from the effects of domestic violence. Many of the resources that we take for granted in the UK aren’t available in Romania, yet people are still offering excellent care and support to vulnerable children.
During the training sessions a local restaurant, in which a nationally well-known singer called ‘Bodo’ owns shares, supplied the lunches. Bodo used to be in a band called ‘Proconsul’ and when he came to deliver lunch in person everyone recognised him. He joined us for a short time and spoke about his own experience of adopting two boys and how he was bringing them up to value their background and their individuality. It was another inspiring story. It shows how widespread caring for children not biologically your own has been occurring in Romania. For SFAC the task is to help nurture that growing practice with ideas and concepts that we have learnt along the way in the UK.
WHO (we partnered with)
Participants included social workers, psychologists and foster carers for the DPC (local government children’s social services) and RICF (our partner NGO). SFAC has been working with them over the last five years developing their practice with children and families. Many of the issues shared were familiar to us in the UK, even though the language and context were different.
We heard about one young man in foster care who had spent 10 years trying to track down his roots. He had found his birth father but was now searching for his birth mother and possible siblings. Other children were having regular contact with their birth family even in long term foster care and the foster carers were unsure if this was a positive or negative thing. As we shared case studies based on UK practice, there were many nods of recognition. The hunger to understand who you are is universal and knows no borders. We talked about life story work and how we need to get as much information as possible about children’s lives so that we can help children in care have as much knowledge as possible about themselves and their family.
WHY (we visited)
This year we were back by invitation and working with both organisations once again. As well as identity, we ran sessions on child development, adolescence, many foster carers are looking after teenagers, handling challenging behaviour, managing contact, substance abuse, listening to children and healthy child - parent relationships.
HOW (we worked)
Instead of standing at the front of the room and lecturing, we always try to bring the subjects alive through exercises that require a high level of participation. We get everyone emotionally involved in the subject matter by asking them to take part in exercises that place them right into the networks and dynamics of the care system. Sometimes this means physically moving around the room and connecting everyone with pieces of string! An exercise we do to illustrate the many broken emotional connections that children have when they live away from family and in government care.
The feedback we receive in Romania always shows that the participants enjoy our unconventional style of teaching; this time it included comments like: “… flexible, interesting, something new, easy to understand and relate to, enjoyable, interactive… it was most useful, especially the games and role play moments, a lot of different situations were met and debated… informative”.
WHAT (has happened since we've been working in Romania)
Even in the short time we’ve been involved, you can see that things have moved on a great deal. Although children are still placed in institutional care, the use of foster care has grown and the size of the institutions has reduced.
It feels as though things are moving in the right direction and SFAC has played its own small part in supporting this. Slowly family based care is forming its own identity in Romania as part of social work intervention.
This post was written by Walter Young, one of SFAC's longest serving volunteers. He gives his all at every training event as the first photo will demonstrate! You can read more about Walter on our Meet the Team page.