July 2020 Update
I'm pleased to bring you an update following our recent 6 monthly review with Ovidiu, Simona and Emilia at the RICF HQ. This year was rather different from previous years when we have been able to meet face to face and be part of each of the support meetings at the HQ, hearing directly from our foster carers, sharing a meal with them and getting to know the mums and babies in our abandonment prevention project. This year I was in my temporary home office (left), where I am all set up for remote GP work for if I am not able to attend the practice. Ruth was also joining us by Skype from home, and Ovidiu, Simona and Emilia were together at the HQ in Bucharest, wearing face masks.
It was great to see each other again, albeit remotely, and to hear each other’s voices. One of the plus points of having a condensed virtual visit was that we were able to have 2 board members join in discussions and planning, whereas usually just one board member visits at a time then reports back to the others.
We are really pleased with how our team in Bucharest have got on with adapting delivery of our projects within the context of severe restrictions introduced by the Romanian government in response to the coronavirus pandemic. None of our project participants or family members have been unwell with covid-19 and we are hopeful measures being taken by the Romanian government will limit spread of cases, although unfortunately numbers of daily cases are still rising, and Bucharest is apparently the third worst affected area in the country. The team have started meeting together at the HQ again once or twice a week since June, but are taking precautions such as wearing facemasks and using alcohol gel etc.
'A Family for Me' Foster care project
We are pleased to say we have been able to continue delivering a package of support to our foster carers, although the format has been different. The foster carers have been supporting the children in their care with distance learning set by their schools. Our team has been in regular telephone contact with individual foster carers to ensure their wellbeing and the wellbeing of the children in their care, and to provide advice and support. Romania plans to reopen schools for all children in September, so we hope there will be a return towards normality for the children and for our foster carers then.
The already established Whatsapp group has really come into its own as the main method for foster carers to keep in touch with each other and with the HQ team for mutual support. Foster carers have continued to receive their full allowances and have really appreciated this at such a time of uncertainty, where household members may have been asked to take unpaid leave, or have been laid off due to the pandemic. Ovidiu has been providing much appreciated spiritual support, with recorded messages of encouragement from the Bible, worship songs and prayer.
The team started up face to face meetings with the foster carers again in June, but with foster carers coming to the HQ one by one for timed meetings, rather than all together. It was emotional as they were all desperate for a face to face reunion, as many of them consider it like a second family, but it was decided it was safest to restrict the meetings to one foster carer at a time. They are hoping to be able to arrange meetings all together in the park outside over the summer, if it is safe to do so.
Abandonment prevention project
We continue to have 13 places in this project for mum and baby pairs. So far we have now supported 95 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.
Our team have continued to maintain contact with the mums in the abandonment prevention project, and have continued to pass on the financial allowances. In some cases the mothers don’t have bank accounts so where meeting in person was not permitted, this sometimes involved transfers through family members to ensure the money was still received to meet the children’s needs. Again it has been really helpful that the Whatsapp group was already established – and Simona has now developed a separate Whatsapp group to keep in touch with previous project participants, separate from the one with current project participants. We feel this is really important as a safety net so that if previous project participants get into difficult situations in the future and need help, they will have an easy way to get back in touch.
Some families have had a really hard time as household members were in informal roles or paid as daily labourers, with no protection under the coronavirus lockdown and so family income has crashed. In some cases the financial hardship has been such that our team have decided to prolong the family’s participation in the project beyond the usual 12 months. We discussed this at our recent meeting and agreed that where there is severe hardship, we would allow the team to use their discretion to keep mums and babies at the higher level of 300 RON (approx £56) per month for additional months beyond the usual first 3 months, before dropping down to 250 then 200 then 150 RON. Similarly, if financial support needs to be continued beyond the usual 3 months at the lower levels, this can be done at their discretion. This additional flexibility is welcome at the moment, and has been possible because we have not received any new referrals from the child protection authorities since lockdown began.
We are aware however that there will be a particular need for this project at the moment, even if the state is not actively identifying suitable cases and referring them on to us. Simona has joined various Whatsapp groups aimed at vulnerable mums so she can have an ear to the ground for families experiencing extreme difficulty and invite them to be evaluated for enrolment in our abandonment prevention project. There are two mum and baby pairs currently being evaluated for enrolment this month. We plan to get numbers of mum and baby pairs back up to 13 as soon as possible, and this will be helped once the referrals start up again from the authorities, but the team think it will take a few months to get back to previous numbers.
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
We are very grateful for the ongoing faithful support of all our supporters. At times like this the support is making such a difference to vulnerable families and children in foster care, both in terms of financial stability but also the moral support, advice and friendship which are so important to all of us, but particularly to children and families with additional needs. It is a privilege to work alongside you in bringing hope, love and compassion into Romania at this time.