Why foster care in India needs to be expanded?

Synopsis: Foster care is a feasible, suitable substitute to adoption and institutional care in light of the trouble being faced by Covid-19 orphans.

Introduction 

Orphaned children in the second wave of Covid-19 are being sent to local shelter homes. But, is it the optimum solution?

The negative impact of institutional care
  • Every child has a right to be raised in a family and that’s why there is a push for non-institutionalized (foster) care solutions for orphaned children
    • A research highlighted that physical and mental development in overcrowded and under-resourced shelter homes is delayed. This also increases the likelihood of social and behavioural problems. 
What is foster care?

Foster care is an arrangement whereby a child lives, usually on a temporary basis, with unrelated family members. While placing a child in foster care, preference shall be given to those families that share similar cultural, tribal and /or community connection.

What is the difference between foster care and institutionalized care?

The state of orphaned children in the country has brought the focus back to the issue of foster care versus institutional care. 

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  • Fostering has yet to gain credibility as a recognized method of child protection in India. Under this system, foster parents have custody rights only. Foster parents are responsible for raising the child in a secure and personalized family setup. 
    • The family has no control over the child’s assets, nor is it compulsory to share inheritance rights over its own assets to the foster child. 
  • Whereas, the adopted child becomes a legal member of the family in the adoption system and is entitled to property rights.
What is the state of adoptions in India?

India has almost 30 million orphaned and abandoned children. The legal adoption of these children is a challenge. Adoption processes are very lengthy; this results in just a fraction of kids finding a home. 

  • Firstly, the yearly adoptions enabled by the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) are just 3,000-4,000. 
  • Secondly, there is a reluctance to adopt because in foster care there is a life-long commitment and adopted children have enforceable legal rights.
  • Thirdly, foster care comparatively offers a more flexible ecosystem. Regular follow-ups can be done to check on the well-being of the child. In legal adoption, there is little or no follow-up.

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Problems that need resolution
  • No legal framework: A legal framework to encourage foster care in India was presented by the central government through the enactment of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act. But the Act left it to the states to make rules for purposes of carrying out the scheme. This resulted in uneven implementation.
  • Lack of awareness of legal provisions: Many Child Welfare Committees (CWCs) are not aware of the applicable legal provisions. Many avoid the duty of choosing foster families, approving childcare plans, and conducting compulsory monthly reviews to help check misuse of the foster system for abuse and exploitation.
Measures to improve the foster care system
  • State governments should promote foster care where association care is unavailable. 
  • States should go beyond the declaration of aid packages. They should ensure that the district child protection machinery is promoted to chart the promising territory of foster care.
  • Foster parents should be financially supported by the state for child care. This model is followed in many countries. Foster parents can provide a socio-cultural environment similar to when the child was born
  • In India, district agencies get annual funds to support foster care, but they go unutilised. These funds should be utilized in an optimum manner.
  • Clear, crisp rules and visibly managed budgets for fostering
  • Committed and sensitive citizens can be expected to come forward to open their homes and hearts to children in need.

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