Foster care and temporary homes: offering emergency accommodation in times of COVID-19

Across Southeast Asia and in Cambodia specifically, many children are separated from their families. Causes are multiple: poverty, marital instability, social stigma… Most parents who abandon their children are feeling helpless and unable to provide them with the necessary care. Many of these children end up in orphanages or similar institutions. Unfortunately, children in orphanages often lack care, affection, are sometimes neglected or even abused.

At Friends, we believe that family is where children belong. We find temporary loving families for them and work on long term solutions to reunite them with their birth parents.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis though, we have been following the guidance from local authorities to ensure everyone’s safety which has meant suspending placements in foster families.
Indeed, while we continue to follow-up with our foster families and the children they are temporarily caring for, we cannot place any new abandoned children, as we want to make sure it is safe for everyone to do so. Our family trainings have been suspended too until the situation gets safer.

As an alternative, we are keeping children in our transitional homes, offering them a safe and comfortable place to stay before joining a loving family.

Short-term emergency accommodation for distressed children

Located in safe and quiet areas, our transitional homes (TH) offer short-term accommodation and rehabilitation to vulnerable children in distress. Across Cambodia, 187 children stayed in our TH last year. Children staying in our homes are separated from their family (due to family dysfunctionality, abandonment, or unsafe migration from the countryside) and have often been exposed to sickness, exploitation and abuse — emotional, physical and sexual.

In the present context, the dramatic impacts of COVID-19 are increasing risks for children: a recent survey from World Vision highlights that 57% of parents and caregivers reported that parenting has become more complicated or challenging since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak and, as a result, only 32% of them reported that they could adequately manage their children’s behaviour. There is a global concern of an increase of domestic violence or child abuse, that could lead to a higher need for emergency accommodation for children.

Children stay at the TH on a temporary basis (ranging from 1 to 12 months), until their lives are stabilized, and they can be reunified with their family and reintegrated into public school. 

Abandoned babies are usually immediately placed into foster families as they need very special care. Sometimes, a placement can take no more than 48h if we find the right fit: we have a pool of experienced families ready to welcome a child anytime. 

For older children, it generally takes longer as the goal is to reintegrate them in their biological families. To do so, we need to assess the families’ situations, support them in overcoming their problems (addiction, loss of employment, etc) and find long term solutions which will offer a safe and nurturing environment for their children.

Our TH are tended by a team of house parents and medical staff. Every day, children get life skills and non-formal education (numeracy, history, geography, literacy) and take part in recreational activities such as games and sports. In addition, children access much needed psycho-social services, counselling and medical care. The activities at the transitional homes have been adapted to the current context: teachers who used to give classes in our center are working on shifts to ensure continuous education despite school closures, and sharing important protection messages in the form of games. Social distancing is respected and the homes have been equipped to ensure all safety measures are in place.

While we’re strictly following the Government’s guidelines for ensuring safety for all, we are also prepared for the post-COVID situation. Hopefully we will soon be able to safely resume training new families and placing abandoned children with them so that they can get all the love and care they deserve, and continue to safely reintegrate children with their biological families also.

If you are interested in sponsoring a foster family to provide the necessary care and love to abandoned children, visit our website!

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