Dr. Shilpa Mehta, President Foster Care Society, discusses Foster Care in India, laws and the challenges around it

Dr. Shilpa how did you start Foster Care Society?

It all started in the year 2013 when I joined an organization in Udaipur named ‘Foster Care India’ a registered charitable trust which worked in the field of child protection.

The Chief Executive of this organization was working on Non-Institutional Alternative Care for children in India. I was so inspired by his vision that I decided to join his organization and learn more about family-based care alternatives.  In my initial days I was little skeptical about foster care program as it was providing temporary based care to the child in a family.

But it didn’t take very long for me to get convinced that foster care concept can bring change into the lives of children who are deprived of family and family-based care and it can happen in India. I put my heart and soul to start a foster care program. I learned during my working days what a positive difference a family could make in the life of the child. 

We faced many obstacles initially, but finally we succeeded to have our first foster placement in 2015. With our sustained efforts, Rajasthan Foster Care Rule was passed in 2014. We then officially started implementing foster care in Udaipur.

I was becoming more and more confident after each placement because it gives a very positive feeling when you see any child with a family. At the time of placement, I forget all the challenges I face as I see a smile on the face of parent and child. Such a beautiful and satisfying moment!

But due to certain issues, that organization was broken and all the staff left. It was very difficult and crucial time for me as I was managing four foster families and their children. I had also put in lot of effort to develop trust and confidence with the government stakeholders and families, and it would all be lost if the programme got discontinued. There was no other organization to take our work forward.

After discussing with my colleagues, I decided to register a new society (as that is the only option left) from where we can continue this work. Foster care Society got its registration in January  2017, and this is how society was formed.  

2. What is Foster Care? There is a lack of awareness around it.

In a layman languageFoster Care is temporary care and protection for a child in your family atmosphere with the goal of helping that child become a successful, confident and contributing Indian citizen

Foster parents often say that foster care is the most rewarding, moving, challenging and humbling experience of their lives. 

In the legal term, foster care is an arrangement where a child in need of care and protection is placed in the domestic environment of a family, usually on a short term or extended period of time i.e. long term, with unrelated family members The family should have been selected, qualified, approved and supervised for providing such care by the Indian Government. It is important to note that in India, the decision of placing a child for Foster Care is taken by the concerned district level Child Welfare Committee (CWC) and the foster parent(s) are licensed as ‘fit’ person(s). The DCPU is the nodal organization who supports the entire Foster Care process.

3. What are some of the laws regarding Foster Care in India?

All-things-child-protection is governed in India by the Central Government’s Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Act 2015. All States have to outlines four ways  for care and protection out children, sponsorship, foster care, adoption and orphanages (institutionalization).  Each State has to create their own State rules and guidelines on all of the above catered to their State context.

Rajasthan is one of the first states in India to implement Foster Care based on the 2014 Foster Care Rules passed by the Rajasthan Government.  Rajasthan is also in the process of finalizing new foster care guidelines.

4. What role does your organization play in Foster Care?

Foster Care Society act as a technical support agency in the implementation of the foster care program in Udaipur division. The primary objective of our services is to provide support to foster children, foster families.

I am sharing with you a very heart touching story of a foster child and his foster parent. This case is very close to my heart.

Once I saw an adorable four-year-old little boy begging on the streets for his survival. His little fingers just melted my heart. I thought at this age, his family should have pampered him. He should be hugged, and someone should hold his little hands but such a shame, he is roaming on the streets asking for petty amounts.   At such a tender age as his, he  should have been playing, laughing and enjoying his life with no care and troubles.

But here he was begging.  He saw his mother brutally killing his sister. The child who has seen so much cruelty at this tender age was growing on streets which are extremely violent and heartless.  At this age, he should be fond of chocolates, but he had gutka!

I saw a streak of brilliance in him and thought that he might turn out to be a wonderful human being if given love, emotional support, proper care, and attention. I could not get rid of his little fingers. Instead of coloring, he was begging.

We arranged for a foster family for him, and today he is a much happier child. Foster care laid a life full of what he deserved at the age of his. He is lovingly and willingly accepted by foster parents, in spite of knowing his background.  Hats off to this couple who took him to their home providing him a healthy, beautiful, and comfortable unbelievable living. His foster parents have left no stone unturned to fill colors, joy, and happiness in his life and make his future bright.

5. What kind of support systems do we have in India for foster care families and children?

Currently, in India, we do not have any support system for foster families at the system level.   

6. What challenges do you face in your work?

The lack of awareness about the program at the system level the biggest challenge in implementing foster care.  No support is being provided to potential foster families.

Foster care Society is working for so long in the program and supporting the stakeholders in the implementation still we are not empanelled with the system. This is another challenge that we are facing currently.   

7. If someone is considering adopting from foster care or becoming a foster parent, where should she/he go for more information?

As a technical support agency, Foster Care Society provides all the information to the inquiries. After signing the consent form, society assists the potential family in the placement process as well. The inquirer could also visit Government Specialized adoption agency (G’SAA), District Child Protection Unit and Child Welfare Committee in a district for the information.

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