Pilot Foster Care Program in Honduras Draws Closer to Launch
— Christine Bolaños · Tuesday, November 28, 2017 —
Honduras’ most vulnerable population may benefit from new options of care in a family after a new foster care program for children is launched. In a first-of-its-kind agreement, Orphan Outreach’s partner NGO, Asociación Manos Extendidas (AME) and DINAF, the child protection social services division in Honduras, have agreed to design licensing standards and procedures for the national foster care system, followed by the development of a pilot privatized foster care program that will place children in safe and nurturing homes.
For the last few months, AME’s staff has been working on protocols that will become the national guideline for foster care in the country. It would be followed by DINAF, the child protective services government agency in Honduras, psychologists, social workers, family courts and others involved in the foster care system.
The goal is to have the protocol finalized and approved by late November and to start placing foster children in homes in early 2018. AME plans to simultaneously train government officials so they can expand the program into other areas of the country, and collaborate with NGOs, orphanages, private foster homes, churches and other entities.
Austin J.P. South, who serves as regional director for Orphan Outreach in Latin America, says the protocol has gone through a validation process in which a series of workshops and focus groups are organized with stakeholders in foster care and child protective services. These include children and families who have a history in the country’s prior foster care program.
Their feedback, he says, is integral to the overall development process of the protocol which involves creating a document with many perspectives.
He says the children who participated in the focus groups range in ages 8 to 14 years old and have a variety of preferences when it comes to being placed in foster or residential care. Residential care is an umbrella term for orphanages and similar facilities. Most were drawn to the same type of care they had had before.
He said the partnership between AME, a private nonprofit NGO , and DINAF, a government agency, has been productive and amicable. He said all stakeholders are working toward the common goal of ensuring a bright future for Honduras’ population of at-risk children.
“Both sides of this partnership respect the other and the work that’s being done,” South said. “It’s cohesive and productive. The principle role of Orphan Outreach and AME is to offer technical expertise and support through funding."
He says the protocol will be used by the entities implementing and managing foster care programs, such as DINAF and their technical teams, as well as those NGOs that have bilateral agreements with the government to run foster care programs. There will also be follow-up care tools that will be implemented into the protocol.
“Since DINAF is the government body, they will have authority over the final protocol document, “shares South. “They are the ones legally responsible for these children.” DINAF will also carry the weight of responsibility for the placement of children within the foster care program; however, participating NGOs will weigh in on what’s in the best interest of each child.”
South says that, if the protocol is approved, then the first one to five children could be placed in homes as early as the first quarter of 2018.
“It’ll be something gradual,” he explains.
Staff needs to ensure children and families have proper training, a guideline manual, access to workshops and the like.
“It is neat to see how working on behalf of children brings people together,” South shares. “I was in one meeting recently where leaders of different denominations within the faith community all came together around a table to talk about foster care for kids, some of whom have very different theologies or philosophies. But they could come together around kid’s needs.”
Mireya Sevilla, Executive Director of Asociación Manos Extendidas, says there have been two focus groups in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. She helped lead the group in San Pedro Sula.
“It’s really important to hear what the children have to say about the process,” Sevilla says. “In the end all this work we’re doing is for them. It’s important to know what their expectation is and their fears, anxieties and desires.”
She said the children tend to be open and trusting but have high expectations of those in authority, as they should.
“They hope authorities are not bad people and will take care of them,” Sevilla shares. “It’s neat to hear all the things they come up with. They are participating in the process, and their ideas will be considered as the protocol is designed.”
This includes feedback on choosing the right families for children, what homes should and should not have; and, how people who have caused them pain should be brought to justice.
“What’s really interesting is that most kids did not want to go to single parent settings,” she says. “They wanted to go into two parent families or, even better, to be placed with families that already have children.”
She says foster moms also had crucial feedback to share. Some of them were almost left to fend for themselves during the transition from the prior government agency to DINAF in 2015. They got a government stipend to help with expenses related to their foster children, but it wasn’t enough. In many cases, there are medical expenses for the children to consider. There was also little follow up from those administering the foster care system to see how things were going.
With the new protocol, foster parents hope to have more support and guidance throughout the entire process.
The guidelines will fill any blanks or voids left over from the previous foster care system.
“This way we can ensure kids will be well cared for and they will be safe not just because we are telling them a family is safe but because they are going through a process of letting them feel safe,” Sevilla says.
On a larger scale, bringing all stakeholders together ensures everyone has the best interest of the children at heart. A goal is to unify and standardize evaluations that can be used by psychologists, social workers, case managers, technical staff within the family courts, and NGOs. This eliminates the possibility of children being re-victimized, if for instance, there are regular evaluations and ongoing monitoring.
“Any psychologist working in any of those areas, for example, will be certified as professionals who know how to use battery of tests,” Sevilla adds. “It makes is so much easier, and it is better for the children. We are not going to re-victimize them.”