May 2021 Update
Thanks so much to all our supporters who have continued to give during this difficult year. We are so grateful to have been able to continue our projects without any reductions in the number of project participants, or in the financial allowances we have been able to provide to those in need.
We are grateful also to those who gave to our covid hardship appeal launched in November 2020. As a result of this appeal we have been able to send over additional support to FICR, and we are very thankful that all participants of our projects have received parcels of supplies (food and basic medicines) both at Christmas 2020 and Easter 2021 in addition to their regular monthly support. Here Simona, psychologist (left), Ovidiu, director (right) and his wife Flori (centre) are preparing the supplies at the FICR headquarters. Photos of some of the families receiving their Easter parcels are included below (faces obscured to maintain privacy). Thanks also to US Charity Remember Nhu for contributing towards these parcels.
Face to face visits to Romania by RICF trustees and FICR board members have not been possible this year due to covid restrictions in the UK and Romania. However, Ovidiu, Simona and Emilia have kept in close contact with the board, initially working exclusively from their own homes, and more recently meeting together at the HQ in Bucharest at least on a weekly basis. Romanians have been celebrating Easter this weekend, in line with the Orthodox Church calendar, and we plan to do our next formal activity review together remotely in June. When I asked Ovidiu how the pandemic has been affecting the team and the project participants, he answered: 'At the foundation we have been affected by the lack of group meetings. Already a year has passed since we had our last group meetings, discussions about various topics and moments of prayer at the headquarters. Both the foster carers and the mothers miss the group meetings. The children continue to study online at home. We (the HQ team - Ovidiu, Simona and Emilia) meet weekly at the headquarters to get work done. Where it is not necessary to work together, we work from home individually and we keep in constant contact with the beneficiaries on the support groups.'
Project updates: A Family for Me' Foster care project
FICR has now worked with more than 100 mothers at risk of abandoning their babies to help prevent abandonment since the establishment of this project in December 2009. FICR offers a 12-month package of financial support (300 RON (£53) monthly for 3 months tapering down over the year to avoid creating dependency), education, mentoring and spiritual support.
We continue to have places for 13 mums and babies in this project at any one time, and we are very grateful to the US charity Remember Nhu for funding 8 of these places. We receive referrals from the local child protection authorities, and also recruit some cases directly, by word of mouth and through participation of the project coordinator, Simona, in various WhatsApp groups. This last year there has been a lot of need in the community due to the economic and social impacts of the covid-19 pandemic.
There are currently 12 mums and babies enrolled in this project, ranging in age from 3 months to 20 months. Some of the families have other children as well as the baby or toddler enrolled in the project. For some families income has abruptly stopped or reduced during the pandemic, particularly where the parent(s) were reliant in income from daily labour. Where hardship has necessitated extension of participation beyond the usual 12 months, we have been flexible, particularly during the pandemic.
The Whatsapp group and telephone communication have been so important for providing support whilst covid restrictions have made group support meetings impossible. The HQ team and mums are very much looking forward to the time when face to face meetings can be restarted. Some individual contact between mums, babies and HQ team has continued during the last year but most contact has been remote.
'A Family for Me' Foster care project
11 girls aged between 5 and 19 and five boys aged between 12 and 18 are currently enrolled in this project along with their foster carers. FICR continues its commitment to employ its one remaining long-term foster carer at least until the young person in the placement reaches adulthood in 2027. This foster placement was started when the young person was a baby and she is now 12 years old and thriving with her foster family and in her local community. In addition, FICR is currently providing support for 12 state-employed foster carers, caring for 15 children and young people. Five of these placements were arranged by FICR several years ago but the employment of the foster carers was then transferred to the Romanian child protection authorities at FICR’s request. FICR provides training and support to existing foster carers to help equip them to provide the best possible environment for the children in their care.
During the covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown restrictions, FICR has provided a lifeline for these foster carers, through regular contact, advice and support, mainly through Whatsapp and telephone, but also some face to face meetings with individual foster carers and the children in their care, with social distancing, face masks etc. FICR’s foster carers continue to appreciate having 24 hour access to FICR’s social worker or psychologist if an emergency arises regarding a child in their care. The HQ team and foster carers have been missing the group meetings at the HQ and look forward to a time when these can safely resume.
Emilia recently updated us: ‘Foster carers have been affected by this pandemic from several points of view: the medical system is in high demand, and for those with health problems (themselves or their family members) it is incredibly difficult to be able to reach the services they need. Because most hospitals are for Covid, only people infected with the virus have access. Secondly, the educational system is put in difficulty, the children are still learning online, their Easter holiday is also extended by 2 weeks, which will be recovered at the end of semester 2. For our foster carers caring for children with learning disabilities there is particular added pressure, as they would usually have relied on the time the children were at school to take care of household chores. The money received from the foundation has provided many children with money for tutoring. Even one of our boys who was the best in the class, now needs tutoring because he can't understand everything online and some of the classes haven’t taken place. For other children, the allowance is used for private speech therapy / complementary therapy sessions, given that not even children in need can access free medical services due to the overload caused by Covid 19.’
We are grateful to the US charity Remember Nhu for its regular financial contributions which fund the participation of 9 children and young people in our ‘A Family for me’ project, bringing the total number of young people we can support in this project at any one time to 17. As one child or young person completes their placement, another child is recruited into their place. Occasionally, young people leave their foster placement through adoption or where a decision is made by the Romanian child protection authorities that they can be safely reintegrated with biological family members. However the foster placements tend to be very long term placements, sometimes from young baby through to adulthood with the same foster carer. In our experience, the commonest reason for the child leaving the foster placement is that they have reached adulthood and completed their education. Even then, many of the young people stay on with their foster family even once financial assistance for the family ceases, as they have become so much part of the family.
Sometimes when a placement is complete, the foster carer has a short sabbatical before taking in a new child. Where a foster carer has worked with RICF for a substantial period, and they are taking a short break prior to receiving a new child in placement, we hold a place in this project for them and the new child placed with them.
Update on covid impact in Romania
Romania continues to be affected by significant numbers of daily cases and sadly also deaths from Covid-19. Today's data (3rd May) indicates 682 new cases and 98 new deaths.
Statistics regarding numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths in Romania to date (taken from worldometers.info on 3rd May)
Just over 10% of the population of Romania is now fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Thanks to all our supporters
Thank you so much for your ongoing support for RICF and your commitment to our work. We are grateful that none of our families or children have been badly affected by covid, although some have had mild covid illness, and also that the vaccine is now increasingly available for the general public.
It was so encouraging to see photos sent over by the HQ team recently of the children and their foster carers, and of the vulnerable families we are supporting, attending the HQ to receive their Easter parcels. For some of the children in foster care I had not seen their photos in over a year, and it is great to see them looking happy and healthy. It was particularly wonderful to see the faces of young people who we have been supporting in foster care since they were young babies, and who are now towering over their foster carers, and to see the obvious affection between them.
It is always wonderful to see the photos of the vulnerable families we are supporting through our abandonment prevention project. Because of the nature of the project, with a 12 month average participation, I usually don't know the families from one visit to the next, as almost all have graduated the programme and been replaced by new families. It is a real encouragement to see the families being positively impacted and supported by RICF. We are very grateful to Ovidiu, Simona and Emilia for putting RICF's core values into practice: Children belong in loving families, Protection from harm, Child-centred care, Integrity and Justice, Unity and Diversity, and Striving for excellence.
We pray you and those close to you remain well and that you are able to enjoy more time together with loved ones over the coming months.