A survey of nearly half of all short-term foster carers in the Czech Republic has shown that, with the right support, they can offer a successful alternative to institutions for vulnerable young children.
Lumos, the international children’s organisation founded by J.K. Rowling, supported the Government of the Czech Republic in 2013 when it created a new system of paid, short-term foster care.
The aim was to provide a family-based alternative to institutional care for infants and babies and older children - who were separated from their parents for various reasons, including neglect and abuse and addiction problems – whilst the courts and other professionals found a long-term solution.
More than eighty years of research has shown that living in large, impersonal care institutions harms the physical, emotional and intellectual development of young children, because it deprives them of the close, sustained adult engagement they receive in families and which they need to develop fully. Institutional care is particularly harmful to babies.
Whilst some commentators in the Czech Republic supported the new system, others have criticised it – suggesting many people who signed up as carers were unemployed people, and were motivated by money. Critics claimed that the children moved from one short-term family to another, and ended up in institutions.
Short-term foster care is a professional type of care with a regular income for carers, because they have to be ready to accept children at any time. The survey by the Lumos Czech team in June 2015– which received responses from 192, or 45%, of all registered, paid short-term foster carers– focused on key questions:
- Who are short-term foster carers?
- Does the new system help to replace institutional care?
Petra Kacírková, Director of Lumos Czech Republic team, said the findings from the survey in seven Czech counties were clear: “The survey shows that, with the right support for foster carers, this type of care can fully replace institutional care for young children.”
The evidence suggested the typical foster carer is a woman in her forties with a higher than average level of education and professional experience in the caring services, who is motivated primarily by a desire to help children, including keeping them out of institutions, in a role she finds meaningful and interesting.
“The survey shows that some people’s ideas about short-term foster care being an easy and nice extra income are wrong. The idea of children travelling with their backpacks between families is also wrong because the survey shows that in the case of 97% children, a permanent home has been found,” Petra Kacírková said.
Key findings in the survey include:
- Temporary foster carers – 85% of them women - are better educated than the general population in the same-age range (35 to 64 years of age).
- 90% of the children they cared for were under three years of age.
- Only 1.5% went into an institution or baby home after temporary foster care.
Supporters of institutions have claimed that institutional care is the best option for children with disabilities and special needs. But Petra Kacírková said the survey showed foster carers coped with addictive substance withdrawal symptoms and with disabilities. Sibling groups have been placed in short-term foster care, too. “I am glad that foster carers are not afraid of looking after sibling groups or children with disabilities.”