Helping children in need

Janphen Phiromlapha grew up in a business family and set her sights on making money until she took in a young girl who was not related by blood.

‘A care home was looking for a volunteer,’ she recalls a telephone conversation with her friend in 2006. ‘I just tried it.’

Janphen spent an hour a week at Pakkred Babies Home, but when she left, a little girl cried for her. It was such an emotional connection that it motivated her to come over every day to make her stop crying. When the girl moved to Rajvithi Home, Janphen followed and became a foster parent.

Despite a lack of experience, Janphen went through screening and training for the new role. After discussing the matter with her husband and children, the family welcomed the girl into their home. It was not an easy job because the girl was stubborn, but she did not give up.

“I never cared about anyone, but when I shared love with her, I became softer and happier,” she said.

Nirun Phiromlapha agreed with his wife. He witnessed several instances of child abuse and felt obligated to care for the girl in times of need. From his work experience, he interviewed juvenile delinquents and found that most of them did not receive proper care in their youth.

“It’s very important to boost their self-esteem,” he said. “When they grow up, they will be independent and contribute to society.”

Foster care is a temporary arrangement whereby children are placed with government support in a family other than their own family. On the other hand, adoption is a form of long-term care where children become the legal responsibility of an adoptive family.

“The family setting faces multiple challenges, for example disasters, pandemic, labor migration and domestic problems,” said Anukul Peedkaew, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security.

The government has set up emergency shelters, care homes and other support, but these need to be improved and children placed under institutional care could be disadvantaged, he added. “We encourage families to understand child protection mechanisms through foster care.”

Tuenjai Kongsombat, deputy director general of the Department of Youth and Children, said those interested in foster care should step up because children placed in the home are not “dolls” and should receive a healthy upbringing.

Robert Glover, Founder and Director of Care for Children. Photo: www.robertmarkglover.com

“Families should start volunteering at a care home,” she advised.

Despite the challenges, foster care is a rewarding experience. When she was a social worker, Tuenjai took on the case of a mother who abandoned a five-year-old boy. After a futile search, she registered a foster family to take him in.

“I contacted them. He received proper care and completed his vocational training. Now, at the age of 25, he has decided to be grateful to his foster mother,” said Tuenjai.

About 200 children have been placed in foster care, but according to official statistics, about 5,000 are waiting to be moved to orphanages.

Since 2012, the Department of Youth and Children has partnered with Care for Children, a non-profit child welfare and international development organization based in the UK, to provide foster care to orphans and the abandoned in state-run care homes.

“John Bowlby, a psychologist, argues that parental attachment is qualitatively different. It is a primary attachment. If it doesn’t develop within 2.5 years, it may not develop at all,” said Robert Glover, founder and executive director of the charity.

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“Children who start their lives without parents can have problems. If we want the child to grow up healthy, we have to make sure they have the chance to feel those relationships.”

The former social worker first visited China in 1996 to consult with the government there. Founded in 1998, Care for Children has since rolled out family mediation across the region. It has grown from a pilot project in Shanghai to other cities across the country and then spread to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia with the long-term goal of global expansion.

Despite initial public doubt, Glover proved Bowlby’s theory. Ten years later, he returned to a village in China to monitor progress. A boy approached him with a stick and screamed in anger, talking about his school, dog, family and neighborhood.

“This is what he couldn’t have in an orphanage. Suddenly I realized he thought they brought me to take him back. He was ready to fight me to stay there because that’s where he felt safe, loved and cherished,” he said.

Until now, China has mostly opted for family placement rather than institutional care, he added.

In 2012, Care for Children started a pilot project in Chiang Mai. A tailor-made national training program followed three years later. To date, 17 care homes have successfully implemented family mediation. It also assists the government in issuing national guidelines for foster care.

“Here, ensuring the protection of children is a major challenge. In China, the natural process of whistleblowing, a legacy of the Cultural Revolution, helps the government to monitor the welfare of foster children. In Thailand, family placement officers regularly visit foster homes,” he said . said.

When asked about the impact of economic hardship on foster care, Glover said the government pays parents some allowance under the scheme. In fact, the best foster homes may not be those from wealthy backgrounds. Caregivers must be able to spend time with children and manage their complex emotions.

“This is what we call the honeymoon. After three months, kids start to feel loved and want to test their parents. We train them to be ready. What you’re saying to them is, ‘We don’t like your behavior, but we love you and don’t give up on you’. Keep strengthening it and kids will go through that.”

The success lies in the transformation of thousands of vulnerable children. The documentary Children of Shanghai follows the first generation of foster children in China, who have already achieved success in their lives. One of them is a disabled girl who was placed with a family twenty years ago.

“She couldn’t walk, talk, or eat solid food,” he recalled. “When my wife and I visited her again, she handed me the gold medal she won at the Paralympic Games in Sydney!”

From left to right: Janphen and Nirun Phiromlapha, Robert Glover, Founder and Executive Director of Care for Children, and Tuenjai Kongsombat, Deputy Director General of the Department of Youth and Children. Photo: Thana Boonlert

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