October 2021 Update
Our foster carers were really looking forward to meeting together in person as the lockdown restrictions eased.
Here is a photo taken at their first group meeting back together at the FICR HQ in June 2021, with Emilia, FICR’s social worker with lead responsibility for the foster care programme 'A Family for me'. (We have obscured the foster carers’ faces to help maintain their privacy and that of the children in their care).
Firstly, a massive thank you to all our supporters who have continued to give during this difficult time. 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.
Covid hardship appeal
We are grateful also to those who gave to our covid hardship appeal launched in November 2020. We are delighted to have raised £2,750 into this hardship fund. Thanks so much to those who gave so generously to support it, and also to those who were moved to start giving regularly after hearing about the needs in Romania. We anticipate that all the funds in the hardship fund will have been used by December 2021.
Approximately two thirds will have been used for packages of essential foods and medicines for our project participants, distributed at Christmas 2020, Easter 2021 and again to be distributed at Christmas 2021.
Approximately one third of the hardship fund (£830) has been used to prolong participation in our abandonment prevention project for ten mum and baby pairs who were particularly badly affected financially by the covid pandemic. We agreed with the team last year that where mums and babies were suffering financial hardship related to the pandemic, we would allow them to continue to receive support through this project for longer than the usual 12 months.
So far 20 mum and baby pairs have been enrolled in the abandonment prevention project since the start of the covid-19 pandemic. Out of these 20, ten mum and baby pairs have had their participation extended, five by just one or two months, one by five months, and four by much longer periods of 8, 9 or 10 months. We are so grateful to our team in Bucharest for their regular involvement with and moral support and advice provided for these vulnerable families. We believe that this project, with participation extended where needed, will have really provided a lifeline helping keep families together at this incredibly difficult time.
We are still accepting donations into the covid-19 hardship fund, as the financial impact of the pandemic has been massive in Romania, and as in many places around the world, predominantly affecting the poorest families. Please do get in touch if you would like to give a designated donation towards this fund, to allow us to continue providing prolonged support where needed in our abandonment prevention project, and to allow us to continue to provide packages of essential foods and medicines to those who need them.
Keeping in touch with the team in Bucharest
Face to face visits by RICF trustees and FICR board members have not taken place this year due to the ongoing covid-19 pandemic in the UK and Romania. However, the team have kept in close contact with the board, mainly by email with monthly reports and updates and email discussion where there were decisions to be made. We had a comprehensive activity review meeting with FICR’s HQ team (Ovidiu, Simona and Emilia) by Skype in June 2021. Once again this brought the advantage of allowing two board members (Suzie and Ruth) to join in the review meeting, whereas when these are done in person, only one board member usually visits at a time, then reports back to the others.
We very much hope to be able to restore face to face visits in 2022. These visits are so important for building and maintaining relationships between the UK-based and Romania-based members of the team, and also with the project participants. Board members are usually able to join in with the support meetings at the HQ, hearing directly from our foster carers about the joys and challenges they are facing in caring for their foster children, and hearing from our mums about parenting achievements and challenges. One of the highlights is visiting children at home with their foster families, and visiting mums and babies in their own homes to get more of a feel of real life for our project participants.
For some months during the pandemic, the HQ team have needed to work from their own homes, and at other times they have been able to meet together at the HQ in Bucharest to discuss as a team. When opening up the meetings with project participants, this was done cautiously, starting with foster carers or mum and baby pairs attending one at a time, then two at a time, then in larger groups once restrictions allowed, always following applicable government regulations at the time. The covid vaccine has been available to both staff and participants, but uptake has been mixed.
Unfortunately, the situation with the covid-19 pandemic in Romania is currently ‘at peak and rising’. There are currently parts of Bucharest which are under quarantine conditions and activities are only allowed on the basis of a proof of vaccination certificate. Schools did finally reopen on 13th September 2021 but due to the rapid increase in numbers of cases and deaths at present across the country, the team have informed us that further school closures are planned.
Project updates: 'O familie pentru mine' ('A Family for Me') Foster care project
At the time of writing, 11 girls aged between 17 months and 18 years and five boys aged between 12 and 18 years are enrolled in this project, and we are looking to recruit one more child and their foster carer into the project, to bring us to our maximum capacity with current funding levels, of 17 children and young people. FICR is very grateful to RICF and also to the US charity Remember Nhu for their support for this project.
We mentioned in our last update that 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 FICR for a substantial period, and they are taking a short break prior to receiving a new child in placement, FICR holds a place in this project for them and the new child placed with them. We are delighted that Lidia, one of our longest serving foster carers, has returned to the group after a sabbatical, having recently welcomed a little toddler girl into her family in an indefinite foster placement. At RICF we truly believe that children belong in loving families, and we know that this little girl will have received such a welcome and will be so loved and treasured in this family.
During the covid-19 pandemic and consequent lockdown restrictions, FICR has provided invaluable support for its foster carers, through regular contact, advice and support, mainly through Whatsapp and telephone, but also face to face meetings with one or two individual foster carers and the children in their care. We are really pleased that group meetings were able to resume over the summer, but increasing restrictions due to rising case numbers may mean that we have to return to relying on remote support or individual meetings once again.
'Vreau si eu o mama' ('Me too, I want a mother!')
Abandonment prevention project
FICR has now worked with well over a hundred 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 (£52) monthly for 3 months tapering down over the year to avoid creating dependency), education, mentoring and spiritual support. FICR continues to have places for 13 mums and babies in this project at any one time, and is very grateful to both RICF and the US charity Remember Nhu for their support for this project. This last 18 months there has been a lot of need in the community due to the economic and social impacts of the covid-19 pandemic. For some families other income has abruptly stopped or reduced during the pandemic, particularly where the parent(s) were reliant in income from daily labour.
There are currently 12 mums and babies / toddlers enrolled in this project, ranging in age from 6 months to 26 months, and the team are always on the lookout for suitable families to enrol. FICR receives referrals from the local child protection authorities, and also recruits some cases directly, by word of mouth and through participation of the project coordinator, Simona, right, in various WhatsApp groups. Where hardship has necessitated extension of participation beyond the usual 12 months, FICR has shown flexibility, particularly during the pandemic, and £830 of our covid-19 hardship fund has been used to extend participation by between one and ten months as needed for ten of the 20 mum and baby pairs recruited to the project during the pandemic.
Following our team discussion in June 2021, monthly group meetings restarted at the HQ from that month. Prior to the pandemic, these meetings were sometimes quite crowded as some mums would be accompanied by one or more children and sometimes their partner, husband or another family member. Therefore Simona split the group into two smaller groups who met in turn at the HQ, so everyone would have the chance to come to a meeting, but we could provide a safe environment in the meeting room at the HQ.
The team and mums had been very much looking forward to the time when face to face meetings could be restarted. Whatsapp group and telephone communication have been vitally important for providing support whilst covid restrictions made group support meetings impossible, and these methods of communication continue to provide additional support in between meetings, and even sometimes late into the evenings or at weekends for emergencies.
Independent living and Professional development
FICR’s social worker Emilia, right, currently offers individual mentoring to young people in FICR’s projects approaching the age of 18 to help prepare them for independent living, and to give them advice about further education and career options. During covid restrictions this support has been provided mainly remotely rather than face to face. Young people cared for in our ‘A Family for me’ project have had the opportunity to talk through opportunities for furthering their education and / or starting out in employment. Where young people are continuing full time highschool education, existing arrangements for foster care and allowances remain the same even after they turn 18. However, if they are moving into paid employment, our team agree with them a plan for withdrawing financial support as they become independent, and help them work through living arrangements and budgeting etc.
Update on covid impact in Romania
Romania continues to be affected by significant numbers of daily cases and sadly also deaths from Covid-19. Data from 30th September indicates 12,032 new cases and 176 new deaths. (Data taken from https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/region/romania).
As of 1st October, 10,299,425 doses of covid vaccines had been administered, and 5,400,402 individuals had been immunised (27.82% of the total eligible population). (Data taken from https://datelazi.ro/)
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 available for the general public.
I enjoyed the opportunity in September to read 'Children belong in families
' by Mick Pease. Mick is a social worker and president and founder of SFAC (Strengthening Families for Abandoned Children). Mick sets out so clearly, and with lots of anecdotes and humour, why children do so much better in families. We are very grateful for the support that SFAC has provided to RICF over the years, with multiple visits to train our team in Bucharest and to train them to train others. There is a very strong correlation between SFAC's core values and our own, and it was exciting to read about the journey that Mick has been on with SFAC. I thoroughly recommend the book to you and it can be ordered directly here
. There is also a kindle version available on Amazon: https://smile.amazon.co.uk/Children-Belong-Families-Remarkable-Journey/dp/1532644337/
We are very grateful to Ovidiu, Simona and Emilia for continuing to put 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, and for their flexibility in adapting to changing regulations and requirements through the pandemic.
Thank you once again to all those who support our work in Romania - without you none of this would be possible. Thank you for believing in what we are doing and giving so that we are able to make it happen!