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.

Thank you!

Saturday night we gathered at the Marriott Hotel in Leeds and celebrated 15 years of SFAC and all the work that has been done to see children thrive in safe families all over the globe.

A recap of the night is on its way for those who were unable to join us, or those who are longing to relive parts of the night, but we would like to take a moment to thank all of those businesses and individuals who supported us to make the night possible!

SFAC would like to thank our major sponsor Switalskis Solicitors and our drinks sponsor Parklane & Plowden Chambers. We would not have been able to hold such a wonderful event if it wasn’t for their generous support!

We would like to thank the following for their support for our auction:

We would also like to thank the following for their support for our raffle:

  • Agraah Restaurant
  • The Alchemist
  • The Body Shop
  • 200 Degrees
  • Laithwaites
  • M&S
  • Marriott Hotel
  • Nandos
  • J & J Ellerington
  • C & D Hope
  • P & R Skrzypczak
  • J & J Swift

Lastly, we would like to thank the following for their support for our prizes:

  • Creams
  • Offspring

SFAC could not do what it does if it wasn’t for the support of generous individuals and businesses, and our 15th Birthday Celebration was no different.

From all of us here at SFAC


A Pop Star and Foster Care in Romania

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.

What do a bow and arrow, family based care and Uganda have in common?! Family based care at a grassroots level

Money Matters Part III

Don't forget to check out the first two parts of our Money Matters series!

Money Matters - An Introduction

A little can go a looooong way - How SFAC went to Brazil and back for £250!

WHERE (Your money has an impact)

“Don’t shoot!”

It’s midnight in Kampala, Uganda and Mick, Walter and I have just been dropped off at our accommodation after ten hours of travel. But something is wrong, fifteen minutes of knocking, ringing and calling out hasn’t got us anywhere. Mick decides it time to take things into his own hands and disappears briefly before suddenly reappearing halfway up the wall (it’s higher than Walter is tall and that’s saying something!). He scales it and disappears over the other side.

Walter and I continue pacing the perimeter and talking loudly hoping to attract the attention of the staff inside. That’s when we hear Mick’s voice:

 “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!”

 “It’s me, Mick from Leeds in the UK. Dan booked rooms for us. From the UK – 5 nights. We’ve been here before!”

 Soon the gate opened to reveal Mick grimacing half happy, half annoyed and accompanied by a small Ugandan man carrying a bow and arrow. Thankfully the arrow was now pointing towards the ground and not directly at us as it had been at Mick a few moments earlier.

“We’re in! Finally!!!”

Since 2007 SFAC has been visiting Uganda and a variety of charities working with children. In 2010 SFAC began working with CALM AFRICA, a very small Ugandan charity. It was through this connection that Mick and I met (Remind me to tell you more about that another time – especially about how a flood, a hail storm and a truck nearly derailed our training with CALM one year!). The training started as CALM wanted to start a foster care programme. 

 “Foster care. That wont work here in Uganda!”

 So said Joseph Luganda, a great friend of SFAC and staff member at CALM AFRICA.

“Yes it can and it is” said Mick.

 It was a light bulb moment for James Ssiewankua, CALM’s founder. ‘I am a foster carer! I have fostered 17 children!’ James had not realised that by looking after non-biologically related children in his care he had become a foster carer.

‘Ok’ said Joseph ‘Lets do this!’.

The journey began and SFAC has since visited Uganda to support CALM and others such as Reunite and Alternative Care Initiatives (ACI) many times.

To make this happen SFAC has paid for our flights and accommodation. Why?

 Well, the simple truth is these organisations' budgets are very small. Paying our flights and accommodation costs would take to big a chunk of money out of their budget to do the very things we are training them to do.

SFAC is proud of its decision to offer our services to any organisation that asks for our help, whatever their size and financial status. We see these organisations as critical to developing real change and supporting the growth of family-based care. They work within their own communities and have direct connections to the people who most need to hear about the best way to care for children at risk. While we recognise that paying standard UK rates for training and consultation is far beyond the capabilities of the vast majority of our partners, SFAC always asks for some form of contribution. We do this because we know that people tend to value things more highly when it has cost them something. These contributions are proportionate to each partner’s budget.

On a typical visit to Uganda SFAC might cover accommodation and flight costs and waive all training and consultation fees. The contribution from CALM and other organisations varies from visit to visit but may include travel within country, room hire for training venues, some meals and sometimes even basic accommodation

 The result of our work in Uganda: Reunite and CALM AFRICA work strongly together delivering foster care in Uganada. Joseph now spends his time running a foster care programme for CALM and trains others in Uganda about how they can do similar. ACI is working with the government and other organisations to support this work. Foster care is happening in Uganda and is spreading. The word is out and change is happening.

Without SFAC’s willingness to bear the bulk of the costs involved in a visit this would not have happened. The money given to SFAC by our generous donors has helped to change the lives of many children in Uganda and enabled workers to access training and support that would not have been possible otherwise. With more money we can offer this to many other organisations, but your donations have made a huge difference already. You can be proud of your contribution. 

Hopefully next time the beginning of our visit will be a little less dramatic. Although Uganda does have a habit of throwing some drama our way - ask Mick about falling down a path, Walter about his boda-boda ride or Dan about getting lost!

The really dramatic event is hearing what Joseph has to say now,

 “Foster Care is Uganda’s future!’ 


A little can go a looooong way – How SFAC went to Brazil and back for £250!

Money Matters Part I

If you haven't read the intro to our Money Matters series we'd recommend giving it a read here

WHERE (Your Money Has An Impact)
  • Two people
  • Ten days
  • Four flights
  • Over 500 people in Brazil now aware of foster care, reunification, childcare law, and why children should not live in orphanages and equipped to change the way their communities care for vulnerable children.

Not bad for £250!?

How was this possible?

No, we didn’t pack Mick and Ranjit into a canoe with backpack and tent in hand! Mick was already traumatised by his teeth being in a bad way – I think a few months rowing the Pacific seas and sleeping in a tent would have been too much! But SFAC always looks to make sure we keep costs as low as we can.


SFAC’s approach is to work in partnership with those who ask us to assist them in developing family-based care. In Brazil we are working with members of the judiciary and they were able to raise the funds to cover the flights and accommodation. SFAC’s financial contribution – train fares from Leeds to Heathrow and some meals here and there!


SFAC didn’t charge a fee for the training and consultation provided during the trip as this would have made the costs too high for our Brazilian colleagues. Instead Ranjit volunteered his time and Mick’s salary was covered by SFAC


So the total cost to SFAC is £250 plus Mick’s salary (we’ll post more about the specifics of how your money is spent in an upcoming Money Matters post). 


The result:

400 members of judiciary (judges, court workers, lawyers….) given knowledge on childcare law and how children views and needs are considered in court decisions about where they live.

100 foster carers, prospective carers and social work/psychologists learnt how we support children and carers. 

Plus consultancy meetings with several local council groups and foster carers to develop and review their programmes and practice.


That means that SFAC donor’s money stretched a long way on this visit. For less than £1 per person, over 500 professionals and carers were equipped to help put children in safe families and to pass on the message that family based care is the best option for children.


I’d say that’s not bad value for money!


PS You can find out more about the Brazil trip here