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Moving Forward: Implementing the 'Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children'

Fostering programme developed by the Farm Orphan Support Trust in Zimbabwe

Focus 11: Developing family-based alternative care settings

The Farm Orphan Support Trust (FOST) programme was implemented as a means of responding to the problems of children who had been orphaned (mainly by HIV/AIDS) in the commercial farming areas of Zimbabwe. Because these communities of migrant labourers had become largely detached from their extended family networks, when children were orphaned the most usual option was to place them in an institution far removed from their familiar surroundings.

As an alternative, fostering was a culturally unfamiliar concept and careful work had to be undertaken to promote the concept within farming communities. At local level, child welfare committees (CWCs) were set up, often supported by a childcare representative appointed by FOST. Together, they identified and supported children affected by HIV/AIDS and, following the death of their parents, took all possible steps to ensure the children were placed within the extended family. Where that was impossible, they sought foster homes for the children. Potential foster carers were identified by the CWCs and a pattern of regular meetings with carers was established to discuss questions and problems of mutual concern, with informal training provided on issues such as psychosocial care. The childcare representative undertook regular visits to the foster home to monitor and support the placement. Material support (e.g., school fees and uniforms) was provided where necessary and a farmer’s assistance with growing crops was encouraged to facilitate the family’s self-sufficiency.

Foster carers took on their role voluntarily, which contributed to the quality of the care, preferring an informal type of fostering to any more formal arrangement such as guardianship or adoption. The reason appeared to be that, in the Shona culture, traditional beliefs about ancestors make it difficult for families to take in a child unless s/he has the same totem. Fostering places the child in the role of ‘guest’, which builds on the tradition of treating guests well.

For more information see: A Sense of Belonging: Case studies in positive care options for children

International Social Service, Oak Foundation, SOS Children's Villages International, unicef, ATD Fourth World, Better Care Network, Family for every child, ngo group for the crc, PEPFAR, RELAF, Save the Children, USAID