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!!

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.

How did we get here?

Celebrating 15 years of SFAC

2017 marks fifteen years of SFAC as a UK registered charity, but has its roots further back, in 1997, when Mick and Brenda Pease volunteered with a children’s ministry in Sao Paolo, Brazil. From this experience, and from seeing similar conditions in Tajikistan some time later, Mick developed a curiosity and unease about the vast numbers of children in institutional care. As a social worker in the U.K. he was used to alternative ways of managing the care of children in crisis, and was determined to share a vision of safe family-based care whenever and wherever possible. From this, SFAC was born.

Over the years, SFAC has worked in more than 30 countries. In the following pages we will give you a taster of how this works, based on the experience of some of the people involved. But throughout, the vision has remained constant: that children belong in safe families and that solutions tailored to local needs, resources and cultural norms, produce the best long-term outcomes. SFAC does not impose a working model on organisations but works with what they have available and what works in their communities and cultures using core principles of safe care for children.

SFAC is a charity that works for rather than with children.

A guiding principle of SFAC is that to improve the position of children it is vital to work with the powers that be, whoever and wherever they may be. This is why SFAC is a charity that works for rather than with children, training and enabling partner organisations to equip them with the skills, knowledge, and research behind best practice. This work goes across the spectrum from small projects in rural areas in developing countries (e.g. Uganda, Myanmar) to the highest level of government and the judiciary (e.g. Brazil, Kurdistan, Sri Lanka), where SFAC has had input into the setting-up of child protection systems and the legal framework to support them.

The SFAC team has professional skills in child protection social work, foster care and adoption, psychology, and family law. It is also award-winning with two of its team (Dan Hope and Ranjit Uppal) winning awards for best practice in their fields.

Referrals are often by word of mouth and the approach taken is to work with local people at their pace, led by their perception of need but supported by research and professional expertise. The aim is to convert good intentions – often in plentiful supply – into best practice. The examples which follow will give you an idea of what has been achieved by SFAC in the past 15 years, and what can be achieved in greater measure in the future.

SFAC have been pioneers in advocating for family based care, and has been gaining speed as pioneers in offering training on how to implement family based care around the globe. With your support we can continue to gain speed to enable more children to thrive in safe families.