May 2020 Update
All FICR's children and young people are learning from home during the coronavirus lockdown
Greetings to all RICF’s supporters around the world at this unprecedented time of the global coronavirus pandemic. I hope and pray that you and your families are keeping well. We are thinking of those for whom this is a really difficult time because of personal or family sickness, or because they have lost loved ones. We are also thinking of all those who are struggling to make ends meet because of loss of income at this time.
This time of year I would usually have been visiting the team in Bucharest to catch up and make plans for the next 6 months, with another of our board members visiting in the autumn. However, with both the UK and Romania under lockdown to prevent spread of the coronavirus, this is not possible this year, and will need to take place remotely this spring and possibly also in the autumn, depending how the pandemic unfolds.
However, it has been reassuring to hear from the team in Bucharest that so far none of our team or foster families or vulnerable mum and baby pairs being supported through our abandonment prevention project has become unwell with coronavirus infection, and the same applies for their close family members. Like in France and Spain, Romania has adopted strict rules for when people are allowed out of their homes, requiring signed statements detailing the purpose and destinations, which must be presented to police or military when asked, along with ID cards. Significant fines have been given out where these rules have been contravened. This seems to have had an impact in keeping people at home and preventing spread of the virus. We pray for wisdom for those governing Romania, that their decisions may help mitigate the potentially devastating impact of this disease, whilst safeguarding the population from extreme financial hardship.
It is fortunate that the FICR team has been developing online communication with its foster carers and vulnerable mums through whatsapp groups over the last year or so, meaning that the temporary cessation of face to face meetings at FICR's HQ during lockdown has not come as such a shock to our project participants. They are still communicating with the FICR team by phone and whatsapp, and have been given information about preventing coronavirus infection, and how to follow the recommended measures for hygiene and social distancing according to the Romanian government’s advice.
'A Family for Me' Foster care project
The FICR team has kept up communication with our foster carers by telephone and whatsapp, both individually and through the whatsapp group. The foster carers are also able to keep in touch with FICR and with each other through the whatsapp group, to discuss any matters that come up, and to keep up that all-important contact during lockdown. With the schools all closed due to coronavirus, the children in foster care are now learning at home, through different methods according to the school attended. Some of the families will have very limited access to IT at home. Consequently, where remote internet-based learning has been expected by schools, there may well be gaps in schooling for the children to make up once the schools reopen. Fortunately the foster carers' salaries and child allowances will be unaffected by coronavirus restrictions, meaning at least there will be an element of stability in these households at the present time. We are aware that income for foster carers' other household members may be affected and we will need to look out for potential hardship that might need additional support at the current time.
Thanks to Emilia, our social worker with lead responsibility for our foster care programme 'A Family for me', for this update: 'This pandemic is certainly affecting FICR's beneficiaries. There are people who have been left without a place of work or who are finding it more difficult with the children at home. The children are getting bored, especially in the case of children with ADHD or learning disabilities. Another important aspect is that there is no online teaching for children in foster care in the more rural locations, due to the lack of necessary infrastructure. They try to do lessons via whatsapp, but this doesn't work well. They set lots of homework, which the adults feel they have to do. The communication is going well between our foster carers in the whatsapp group. Everyone is awaiting the new measures that will be announced by the government next week, regarding the duration of the lockdown restrictions.'
Abandonment prevention project
We continue to have 13 places in this project for mum and baby pairs. At the present time we have 12 children and 11 mums (there is currently one set of twins enrolled.) The current age range for the children enrolled is 3 months to 21 months. In exceptional cases our team will decide to extend support beyond the usual 12 month support package. We look to replace mum and baby pairs graduating from the project with new mum and baby pairs in the shortest possible time, and sometimes have cases lined up ready to take the place of an outgoing mum and baby pair from the following month. However the current lockdown restrictions will mean that unfortunately some families in extreme need may find it very difficult to make their needs known in order to access support such as that offered by FICR.
We hope that it will be safe to resume normal activities at the HQ in the very near future so that those in most need can access the help and support that we are there to provide. At the moment the monthly financial support is being transferred directly to the mums from FICR's account, and they are able to keep in touch with FICR and with each other through their whatsapp group. We anticipate that this group will be among the hardest hit by Romania's lockdown restrictions, as their family income is more likely to be dependent on casual work paid by the day, rather than monthly salaries which would be honoured even during the coronavirus crisis. Again we will need to be on the look out for particular hardship where additional support might be needed at this time.
Thanks to Simona, FICR's psychologist with lead responsibility for our abandonment prevention project 'I want a mother, too', for this update: 'We are trying to provide a positive example when it comes to respecting the rules imposed by the authorities, in order to protect ourselves, the foster carers, the mums, and especially the children. Ovidiu has been keeping everyone's spirits up by recording encouraging messages and songs to keep up the spiritual aspect of FICR's support, and the mothers have appreciated this in helping them getting through this period of quarantine. On the whatsapp group we have had frequent discussions about activities that can be done with children at home. For the mothers it is very difficult to be forced to keep the children indoors all the time. They can't go to the park. They are only allowed to go to the shop for essential shopping. In the case of families where there is also a father alongside the mother, some of the dads have lost their place of work because of the pandemic, and they are struggling to manage financially.'
So far we have now supported 94 mum and baby pairs through this project since we started it 10 years ago as a response to the high rate of child abandonment in the local maternity hospital.
Suzie at the mum and baby support group in May 2019 when we were allowed to host the support meetings in person
Thanks to all our supporters
A big thank you to all of our supporters around the world, many of whom give regularly and sacrificially to allow our projects to continue. Thank you for sticking with us at this difficult time. We are so glad to be able to be there to continue to provide for our vulnerable mums and babies at this time, both financially and with friendship and advice, and to provide a buffer before they reach the point of financial hardship that would necessitate putting their children into state care. We are also glad to be able to provide ongoing financial support, advice, friendship and advocacy for the foster carers we support, to ensure the children in their care are well looked after particularly at this difficult time.
Thank you so much for your love and generosity and for believing in what we are doing to help vulnerable children and families in Romania. Without you none of our work would be possible.