RICF's Abandonment Prevention Project - an update by Suzie Marsden
Since my last visit to Bucharest in April the RICF HQ team have assessed and enrolled nine more mothers and babies into this programme, and four have graduated from the group, bringing the participant numbers up from five to ten. We are very grateful to the US charity Remember Nhu for sponsoring five places on this project this year, and to all our supporters for their ongoing financial support that allows this important work to take place. Slowly but surely, twenty lives at a time, this proect is making a real difference, and we are delighted that over the past 7 years since we started this particular project we have now supported 71 mum and baby pairs.
It is a privilege that this project is able to access some of the most vulnerable women and children in Bucharest, by a mixture of working with child protection authorities who refer women to us and word of mouth often from current participants to others in need. We are pleased to be serving these women and children, helping the mothers to grow a healthy sense of self worth both regarding themselves and their children, to avoid the cycle of deprivation and vulnerability repeating itself. We particularly love this project because we see such life-changing results from a one to two year relatively low cost investment, sparing a child from a life time in the care system with all the risks and vulnerabilities that entails.
One of the keys to success for this project is the participants' open access to the project facilitator Simona (RICF’s psychologist) by mobile telephone. Simona is often contacted by project participants seeking advice and reassurance when life events go not entirely as planned, and this softer part of the project is incredibly valuable in building resilience, self esteem and problem-solving skills in our project participants. A big thank you to Simona for her patience, wisdom and level-headedness, being like a mother to many mothers all at once!
We are very pleased that the group is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, recently including women and babies with Romanian, Romany, Turkish, Syrian and Palestinian ethnicity. One of our most vulnerable mothers with a sixteen month infant has just given birth prematurely at 7 months. I first met her at the maternity project support meeting in April, where she had been brought along to the meeting by a friend who was already part of the project. That day she joined in the meeting, and we found out a little of her story, including that she was four months pregnant as well as having a 13 month old child and other slightly older children at home. Following the meeting our social worker and psychologist assessed her situation to see if she would meet our eligibility criteria for participation in the project, and she officially joined the project from May. This turned out to be very timely, as she gave birth prematurely in August, 2 months early, making her and the baby very vulnerable given the level of poverty the family live in. We are very glad that she had been already enrolled into the project and had had the opportunity to start developing a support network and friendships in the group in addition to the financial support, providing a safety net in a very fragile situation.
This young mother has now completed her time with RICF's maternity project. She became a mother at 15, having looked after her own siblings from a young age and only managing to complete four years of schooling. When she found out she was pregnant she did not know how she would cope and contacted the Child Protection authorities. As she had no money and limited support from family she wondered if she would need to put her child in the care of the state. Fortunately she was put in touch with RICF to be considered for our maternity project.
Since she has been supported by RICF, she has developed parenting skills and is managing her budget much better to cover her child's needs. She has also gained friendships through her time with RICF, through the monthly support meetings and also through taking part in RICF's independent living skills project along with other teenagers from our foster care, maternity and family reunification projects. We wish her and her little one, who is now 18 months old, well for the future.
RICF’s abandonment prevention project provides parenting workshops, mentoring, peer support, optional spiritual support meetings, and financial support which tapers down over the 12 months to avoid creating financial dependency. One of the key objectives of this project is to help women to become self sufficient, earning a wage through safe and regular employment, and to access benefits to which they are entitled, for example child allowances, carer’s allowances etc to make the family budget add up. Mums receive 300 Romanian lei monthly from RICF for the first 3 months in the project, 250 lei monthly for the next 3 months, 200 for the next 3 months then 150 for the last 3 months. In most cases by 12 months we have helped the woman find employment so she is ready to ‘graduate’ from the project and no longer needs the financial support. In a couple of cases in the last year we have had women requiring more prolonged support up to 2 years, and we have relied on our project coordinator to assess each case and determine the appropriate length of financial support, aiming for graduation as soon as each mother is ready.
Recently we have opened up ongoing participation in our group support meetings to past participants so they can continue to benefit from contact with peers and with RICF’s team after they cease to receive financial support. This has to be handled carefully because the presence of much more experienced mothers who have gone through our 12 month programme and done the training sessions before could dominate and put off the new participants from entering fully into discussions. However we feel it is important that the mums who have built up a sense of community with other mums and the RICF team over a year do not suddenly lose this community once their full involvement in the scheme is completed. Keeping the meetings open means mums know they can drop in and keep up contact with the team, which keeps lines of communication open in case they run into difficulties in the future. For the last couple of years we have increased the emphasis on long term follow up and keeping in contact after the year of receiving financial support. This helps us look out for problems arising and also helps us evaluate the project's success over the longer term. So far, of the 44 completed cases we have been able to follow up, there are only two cases where the child had to be placed in foster care as the mother was unable to meet the needs of the child. The mental health of the mother is usually a major factor in such cases. For the vast majority of mothers, RICF's abandonment prevention project has equipped them with the necessary skills and confidence to set them up for the long term parenting their children.