Why the world doesn’t have an orphanage problem…

or

 Changing the conversation about caring for vulnerable children

Oops... it seems we might’ve got this backwards?!

Recently we’ve been preparing for a website update. After a couple of years of huge change and growth for SFAC, much of our current site is out of date. 

Thinking about what we wanted our website to say led us to start carefully considering our language. 

How do we explain this weird thing that we do?! 

We’re a children’s charity but we don’t work with children… Hmm… And we don’t have any projects of our own. We only exist in cooperation with other organisations’ projects. (Perhaps you could call us a parasite charity?! … Eww!)

As part of this process we’ve been considering “the problem” that SFAC solves - what is it we exist to do? These attempts to clearly articulate what we do have led to some surprising conclusions, including the thought that perhaps what the way we’ve been explaining it up until now hasn’t been quite right... 

Eek… how do we get out of this one?! And just exactly where did the confusion arise?

We’ve been saying that the problem we’re working to fix is this:

Far too many kids around the world are growing up in orphanages instead of families and we want to see them get back into families. 

I can hear your confusion… “But isn’t that what you do?!” And, to a large extent, the answer is still “Yep, we do!”. 

But at the same time as thinking through our language another thing has been happening. We’ve been hearing more and more reports of orphanages closing down and children being sent back to families. 

Surely that’s cause for celebration, right?! Mission Accomplished - the Happy Ever After ending is here - Woohoo!! 

The problem is orphanages can’t “just” be closed and families can’t “just” be reunited after years apart. Well, not without some serious casualties along the way. Clear procedures need to be in place to ensure the whole process is safe and in the best interests of each child involved. 

We’re also hearing about people setting up foster care programmes without knowing how to assess whether or not a family would be safe carers or have the capacity to care for a child, especially a child with a history of trauma and difficult experiences. You only have to look at well established foster care systems in countries like the UK and Australia to know that just transferring a child from a children’s home/orphanage or from their own family to a foster family is no guarantee they will thrive! It takes a lot of work, the use of some fairly specific skill sets and professional knowledge to ensure these transitions are safe.

For the child being moved, if it’s just a transition from one unsafe environment to another then it’s definitely not a “Woohoo” moment! 

So, does the world have an orphanage problem, an “orphanage crisis”, or is there something else going on? 

It seems to us, there’s a different kind of problem and it has two parts. 

Part 1. Good Intentions

The vast majority of people we work with in this area (caring for or making decisions on behalf of children) have good intentions. Hopefully that includes us too! We all want to protect and care for vulnerable children, to give them a better chance in life. Connected to these good intentions is a tendency towards a knee-jerk, quick fix reaction.There are very few people who don’t experience some kind of emotional response to seeing or hearing about a child in distress or a child having to carry responsibility beyond their years. We find ourselves just wanting to scoop these kids up and take them home! 

(Sidenote: This is why many well respected charities continue to use distressing images - aka “poverty porn” - in their fundraising campaigns despite a growing awareness of the ethical issues around doing so). 

What’s so wrong with big emotions and good intentions, I hear you ask?! This is where we get to the second part of the problem...

Part 2. Poor Practise

When good intentions combine with fast, emotion driven action they often lead to poor practice. 

And poor practice can lead to children being harmed unnecessarily or, in extreme cases, dying - completely the opposite of what our good intentions and emotional responses set out to do.

Let’s be clear, good intentions are definitely not bad but they’re only a starting point. Without the right knowledge, skills and resources they’re all but useless. Our emotional reactions are also entirely valid and appropriate. The problem occurs when we act out of these emotions, quickly and without proper thought and research. Our first impulse is rarely the right, most sustainable, long term solution to a problem. 

The first step in any endeavour involving the lives of another, must be to acknowledge what we don’t know; where we’re not qualified and where the limits of our experience and expertise lie. This is especially important when we’re intervening in the lives of an already vulnerable population like children. 

We’re realising that it’s these problems our work at SFAC addresses. We do it by educating, equipping and empowering people around the world, turning their good intentions into good practice, their emotional responses into the motivation to stick around for the long haul and find lasting solutions. 

So how did we get into this muddle and what have we learnt?! 

As we’ve worked through these things we could see that, when it comes to our language, our focus has been in the wrong place. By focussing our conversations on the model of care - Family vs Orphanage - we, and many other organisations, have been getting stuck on the What. 

What do I do to protect children? Do I care for them in a group setting, in their biological family, with extended family? With foster carers. Oh, and what about adoption?... 

We’ve been getting stuck on the model of care and, in the process, we’ve been forgetting about the Why. Why do we place so much emphasis on children growing up in families? 

Because we know, for the vast majority of children, this is where they will thrive. This is where they’ll have the best chance to make their way to becoming confident, independent adults who contribute to society in whatever way they’re able. It’s also consistent with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 9, if you want to get specific!). 

We all want children to thrive. 

But, as I said earlier, we also know that not all families are safe and just because a child is placed in another family doesn’t mean they will thrive. 

So with the Why (we want all children to thrive) in mind, it’s time to move on to the How? How do we determine what each child needs, and, once we’ve determined that, decide where those needs will best be met now, and into the future. 

This. This is our job. This is the problem SFAC solves - this How gap that lies between good intentions and good practice. We educate people working with and making decisions on behalf of children, equipping and empowering them to assess every child’s individual needs. When this is done well, the What - the type of care most likely to meet those needs - becomes evident.  

In order to thrive, children need to be and feel safe and to have somewhere to belong. The people, the place and the things that will give them this sense of security and identity will be different for every single child. 

Every child is unique. Their care should be too. Click To Tweet

Every child is unique. Their care should be too.

This is, and always has been, SFAC’s foundation. We’re not solving an “orphanage problem”. We’re turning good intentions into good practice so that every child is treated as the unique individual they are, giving them the best chance to thrive. 

 

 

 

P.S. This article raises so many issues - we may have left you feeling like you have more questions than answers! Feel free to get in touch with those questions and keep an eye out here and on our social media channels - you’ll be hearing much more from us on these topics in 2020. 

 

Image Credit:  Andre Guerra on Unsplash

SFAC World Tour

So what have we been up to since February 2019?

First off, we survived the biggest storm to hit Dripping Springs, Texas in 30 years. It nearly flooded us out of our accommodation. We then survived the hottest August bank holiday in the UK spreading our message at the Greenbelt Festival in Northamptonshire (whilst in a tent!).  We were expecting the weather to be the other way around! 

It truly has been a world tour since February. We have flown to the USA, Kenya, Australia and Indonesia. SFAC completed online training with groups in Morocco, Uganda, Indonesia, Kurdistan-Iraq. We have spoken about future work to people in Congo, Ghana, Lesotho, Guatemala, Belize, Turkey, Romania, Philippines, Brazil and Paraguay. 

SFAC hosted, in the UK, a Moroccan delegation of judges, government officials and charities. They were looking to see how social work and courts work together to protect and care for vulnerable children. The visit also included a charity cricket match between SFAC and Leeds Family Lawyers with two of the Moroccan delegation taking part. We are happy to say they are newly converted cricket fans!!!

Whilst in the USA Mick was interviewed for a podcast (forthcoming). Dan and Mick were filmed in a question and answer session about good practice in caring for children. So amazed was Ashlee, the interviewer, that she fell off her chair and broke her ankle (thankfully all fixed now!). 

Mick continues his journey as a first time author as we sell his books. Dan managed to sell three on a plane to Indonesia and one to an Uber Driver in the USA (Dan’s now thinking he missed his vocation in life!)

We have now completed writing our first business and strategic plans. We also had our first SFAC t-shirts and shirts made (fair-trade, organic and sustainable).

We have changed trustees, with Glynn Barrow leaving in June and being replaced by Deborah Shields in September. We thank Glynn for all his hard work and support over the 12 months he was with us and welcome Deborah (a barrister in children’s work). 

Finally, we had a training day on how to record videos (thanks Sean Tucker for putting up with our inept first goes!). This will help us transition to more online training – making us accessible to more organisations and reduce our need to travel. 

It has been a busy time with lots more planned to keep us occupied to Christmas. 

Making a Difference

Graham Pollard and Nick Porthouse completing the Castle Howard Triathlon in July 2018

In 2018, Graham and Nick, challenged themselves to complete the Castle Howard triathlon, blithely unaware of the tricky terrain they would be covering! They made a public commitment and were determined to make the challenge doubly worthwhile by raising money for SFAC at the same time, so they didn’t back down. They cycled up hill and down dale and swam through algae, weeds (and tried not to think about what else!), swiping at the slimy mess as they ran the final stretch and emerged triumphant at the finish line.

Between them they raised nearly £3,000 making them Superstars in our eyes.

Here’s what we were able to do because of their incredible efforts:

 

Subsidise a longstanding project with a very small Ugandan charity called CALM Africa. CALM Africa provides foster care to a number of children in their area; an area that is very poor and so many people struggle to meet the basic needs of their families. As well as the actual foster care provision, the programme involves training community members in how to be foster carers to children local to them. Graham and Nick’s money helped us provide some of the staff at CALM Africa with four online training sessions to improve their skills in equipping foster carers to provide appropriate, high quality, individualised care.

Cover the costs of three days face-to-face training with staff at Sepheo, an amazing organisation working with children who have been living on the streets in Lesotho. Sepheo offers the children the opportunity to attend their school – something that is perhaps surprisingly motivating to those of us who’ve grown up attending school whether we liked it or not! The children are able to attend school if they are living off the streets in a family home Sepheo staff have assessed to be safe. Sepheo comes alongside the children to find a family where they can both be safe and feel safe. This approach has been highly successful and they have managed to lower the number of street children in Maseru to almost zero!

SFAC equipped Sepheo staff to assess and analyse whether or not a parent, member of the extended family or another community member could safely and appropriately care for the child. We also covered how to manage a child’s reactions to trauma (as they are likely to have suffered abuse on the streets if not before), and promoted understanding and knowledge in the staff team about why children may display difficult behaviour. The staff will, in turn, use this new learning to educate and support the child’s carers.

We are now looking to help Sepheo develop a formal foster care project in the community with local people who are willing to care for children. To date, people with some connection with the child (neighbour or family friend), have been informally providing care on the assumption it would be of short duration or have had to give up work to care for the child. The aim now is to develop a more formal programme that can train, support and care for both foster carer and child. Our social work and therapeutic teams will be helping Sepheo to train their staff in how to do this to a safe and high standard. We set aside some money from Graham and Nick’s fundraising to support this ongoing work.

 

Run three online sessions in the Philippines with an organisation who had some reservations about their plans to set up an orphanage for children affected by online sexual exploitation. After discussions with us, they have now set up a community programme to support vulnerable children and families to try and keep families together.

 

Subsidise provision of 10 online sessions for foster carers and social work staff at a project in Morocco. The project is run by an organisation called FAPE who set up the first foster care programme in Morocco. A small programme of eight foster care families and three staff, it has overcome cultural resistance by educating people in both the merits of foster care’s outcomes for children and the way it is compatible with Islamic practice. FAPE hope to gain government support for the programme so it can be expanded throughout Morocco.

SFAC’s work with FAPE has been an essential part of their ability to provide high quality care and led to UNICEF publishing a very positive report on their foster care programme. This report prompted interest from the Moroccon government, local authorities and judiciary which, in turn, resulted in a delegation from Morocco recently visiting the UK to learn from practice here. The group included representatives from government and courts in Morocco. Some of Graham and Nick’s money also went towards subsidising the costs of hosting the group.

SFAC continues to work with FAPE on a regular basis. It is an exciting project that is making a huge difference to the lives of children in Morocco with the potential for a ripple effect beyond just FAPE’s work and this particular project.

2018 – Growing pains are worthwhile when they mean more children end up in safe families!

2018 was a huge year of growth and change for us – so huge it’s taken us until the end of February to catch our breath and tell you about it!

 

We travelled from East to West to work with over 30 organisations on their journey to improve the way they care for children and support families.

 

We have worked with organisations big and small from meetings with the Vice President and Supreme Court Justices of Paraguay to first time foster carers in Morocco.

 

We even bumped into Mexico’s President Elect at an airport!

 

We’ve run training with a group of 200 lawyers in Paraguay and led one on one sessions online with social and case workers on multiple continents.   

 

We were excited to work with organisations in three new countries in 2018 - Mexico, Indonesia and Philippines. SFAC is committed to working with partner organisations long term to see sustainable change happen so we were also excited to continue working with organisations in countries we’ve been working in for years such as India, Paraguay and Uganda.

 

Increasingly we are working differently:

  • We ran group training sessions and one to one mentoring online to organisations in Morocco, India, Uganda, Paraguay, the Philippines and Lesotho.
  • We conducted reviews of the services and practice of a number of organisations in South Africa, Mexico and India, providing recommendations.
  • We also hosted a team from Paraguay in the UK. A big thank you to our generous friends at Team Fostering, Leeds Children’s Services, Cafcass, Switalskis Solicitors who helped facilitate their visit.
  • This was all in addition to in country training covering judicial practice, social work and therapeutic approaches and awareness training about family based alternatives to orphanages and children’s homes for caring for vulnerable children.

 

Each year more and more countries and organisations are recognising the need to change how they care and protect children. This means each year the demands for our services are increasing.

 

In order to meet the demand, we had to expand!

 

Tory Barrow, an experienced therapist, and Nigel Priestley, a lawyer who specialises in adoption and kinship care, both had their first trips with SFAC – Tory to Morocco and Nigel to Paraguay.

 

Our board has undergone a transformation after a few retirements left John Swift as the last man standing! We welcomed Glynn Barrow, Philip Cotterill and Jane Booth who bring a wide range of experience from charity and local government leadership to our team.

A growing team has meant lots of behind the scenes work was needed - new policies and procedures, new systems! We needed to bring new skill sets to the team to help us out. Katy Lambert started in January to help get the ball rolling before moving on to new and exciting adventures of her own in June. We are very grateful for her assistance. Since then, two new staff members have come on board. Hannah Pease is heading up operations and communications and Judy Rose has stepped up from a volunteer to work one day a week keeping our accounts in order.

 

Another highlight was having Graham Pollard and Nick Porthouse challenge themselves to complete a triathalon while raising funds to support SFAC’s work at the same time. Between them they raised almost £3,000 – an extraordinary effort! It’s people like this, along with our regular individual and corporate donors like AHC & Faith Up, Enzygo and Team Fostering that enable us to do what we do and to work to ensure no one working with children lacks the training they need to do it well.

 

It’s been a year of transformation that has allowed us to align even more closely with our core values of sharing knowledge, working in partnership and being accessible to all.

 

Huge thanks to everyone who supported us in 2018.

It’s because of you we are seeing organisations change, their practice improved and, most importantly, the lives of children and their families transformed.

Newest team member, Hannah, runs rings around the rest of us!

Hannah is Head of Business and Communications at SFAC and full of enthusiasm for the post. Here she speaks about the path which led her to the role, her plans for the future of SFAC – and a massive personal challenge to raise funds for the charity.

 

Can you say a little about yourself?

 

I’m Hannah Pease, married to Mark and mother of three children – girls aged 14 and 12, and a boy who is nearly 10. Mark and I have known each other since childhood and we celebrate our twentieth anniversary this summer. Surely it can’t be that long! Family is very precious to me and always will be. Our children are full of life and keep me very busy.

Mark and I met in Sunday school and Christianity remains a guiding factor of our lives. Everything else flows from that. My life is all about family; my natural family and my church family. Everyone thrives, secure in the knowledge that they belong, so this really resonates for me in terms of my work with SFAC. It couldn’t be a better fit because SFAC is all about the significance of family and the right of every child to enjoy it.

 

 

And a bit about your professional background?

 

I have a B.A. in Communications and English from Leeds University. Since then I’ve worked in marketing and, for the last 18 years, in ministry with a sprinkling of retail and a pastoral role with postgraduate students at Leeds University. As pastors, our ‘mission’ has taken our family up and down the UK and then across to the US. For the last 14 years I’ve juggled two ‘full-time’ jobs; being mum to the church, and most importantly, being mum to our children so I’m used to managing different commitments!

 

So, what does the role of Head of Business and Communications involve, and how would you describe your approach?

 

The job is about fundraising, marketing, advocacy and business development. While others at SFAC are focussed on developing and delivering training, my role is about managing the smooth running of the operational side and investing in systems and strategies that will take SFAC to the next level. We’re a very close knit team. Mick (Pease) has done a fantastic job of laying the initial foundations and getting the message out that institutional care is not the best solution for children. Now we’re aiming to support communities as they transition from this outdated model to family-base care. This takes a great deal of empathy, skill and commitment. We’re not about quick-fixes! My personal approach is not about box-ticking, I want to see sustainable change in a respectful way. This totally fits with the relational and empathetic ethos of the charity and has parallels with my church background.

I love that SFAC does not assume any level of understanding at the outset, and works with people, whatever their starting point with no barriers regarding race, religion, financial or educational status.

It’s my belief that SFAC “disciples” communities to care for children – discipleship towards the collective good – and that this has lasting benefits. SFAC potentially provides a generational legacy and that feels very significant. Expanding the life experience of a child and giving them the emotional tools to develop strong relationships is a baseline for their own ability to thrive and build their own families and, in turn, the strong fabric of society. I feel really inspired by this role and am at a point in my own life where a lot of my life experience is converging. Being a mother and a pastor is an experience which feeds into this. At SFAC we’re not just about good theory, but extending that into great practise, and if we do our jobs right, the outcomes and futures both for the individuals we work with and their communities will look incredibly bright.

 

What else should we know about your approach?

 

I am totally un-swayed by statistics (success defined by numbers!) It's overly simplistic. What interests me is the forward plan and the qualitative outcome – the possibility of sustainable change. And because this is SFAC at its best, I can totally ‘sell’ the charity. Mick, and his colleagues, have been making an incredible impact for the last fifteen years and now we need to be making some noise about it! Marketing to maximise someone else’s bottom line is not what motivates me, but using those skills for something I believe in is awesome!

 

You talk of the “forward plan” – what are your hopes for the future of SFAC?

 

We are talking about educating, equipping and empowering local people globally with the knowledge,  skills, and resources they need to achieve best outcomes for children. I hope we can create a sustainable model for this kind of work, and we know that demand for it is increasing. I would also like to see the folks we’re investing in overseas being accredited for the training they have received and to have that recognised in their own country. Whatever I can do to move these things forward is a goal of mine. Later this year I’ll be travelling to Thailand for a conference and site visit which I am really looking forward to and which I hope will enhance my insight into what goes on, on the ground. I know I can’t solve the world’s problems – but I like to think I can play my part.

 

And on the subject of your personal contribution – there is a marathon on the horizon which we need to hear about.

 

I’m running the Boston Marathon (that’s Boston, Lincolnshire, not Boston USA!) to raise money for SFAC on 14th April. I will be running with a lifelong friend, Rachel, who lived next door when we were growing up.

I signed up knowing I wanted to fundraise for SFAC – I have done other marathons, without being sponsored so this is an extra responsibility.

I have always kept fit and enjoyed exercise and swimming, but never considered myself a runner. It wasn’t until my youngest started school that I joined a running club and my first race was a 10k for the children’s school. That was the start, and then someone suggested a half marathon. I was doubtful I could do it but a friend gave me a training schedule and I completed the Leeds Half Marathon in 2014. It’s all downhill from a half marathon.  You find yourself agreeing to 26.2 before you know it. I didn’t want anyone to know I was in training, just in case it all went wrong but I had support from a friend who is an experienced runner, and I ran the Manchester Marathon in 2015. I was very pleased to come in under four hours for and I am hoping for a similar time again.

I’ve been living in Texas for the last 3 years and those guys take it to another level. I ran with folks who eat marathons for breakfast! During that time I did two seasons of training for the Houston Marathon, and ran the Louisiana Marathon in 2017. Living in those temperatures got me into the habit of early morning runs because you have to do it to beat the heat.

At the moment I’m half way through a training schedule which involves lots of very early mornings in the rain and cold. I get up at about 5am and train 5 days a week. Life is very full so there is no real time for anything except the children and running and church and SFAC. Because of the training schedule I am frequently in bed before everyone else now, and they come and say goodnight to me!

I’m a social runner, so I love running with my pals and setting the world to rights. If I have to run on my own, it’s great thinking time…. and besides that, I can keep fit – and eat cake!

And how do we sponsor you for SFAC?

You can sponsor me here. I am aiming for £1000 but hoping for more. I’m already part way there so please help if you can.

 

 

This interview was conducted by SFAC volunteer, Mary Jolley. Mary is a retired social worker and former journalist. 

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 www.childrenbelonginfamilies.net 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,

THANK YOU!

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

Morocco

India (twice)

Myanmar

South Africa

Mexico

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!!