by Jane and Heather Suksem OBE
A balmy breeze whispers through the grass as the sun sets over the fields in Northern Thailand. The sound of laughter breaks through the birdsong in the trees, and a small voice giggles “Hey Dad, I am riding a buffalo!” A man carrying a boy on his shoulders appears from the riverbank. The child, Gop, bounces up and down with delight as his foster father trots along, fishing gear in one hand, holding the boy securely with the other. At home, Gop’s Mother has prepared dinner with the eggs Gop collected earlier from their chickens. As they eat, Gop tells of his adventures by the river and there is much laughter and warmth in the household.
“When we have children around us, it brings us happiness,” says Gop’s Father, who, together with his wife, has welcomed twelve children from one of Chiang Mai’s child welfare homes into their family. Of these, some are now adults and married with their own families.
Gop’s transition from a child welfare home to a loving family has been a transformative, overwhelmingly positive experience. Gop is one of over 300 children currently in local foster families in Thailand who have moved out of government child welfare homes. He now has a family who love and support his needs, and a home where he can feel safe and secure. Sadly, however, many children living in child welfare homes don’t yet have this opportunity to live in a family. There are still over 5,000 children still living in the 29 government run child welfare homes across the country, but the majority of whom would flourish just like Gop if placed into a local family.
According to all leading child welfare organisations, foster care provides one of the best alternative environments for children who cannot live in their own family. Furthermore, in December 2019, all 193 member States of the United Nations, which includes Thailand, passed a new Rights of the Child resolution pledging to increase the efforts to promote family based alternatives to institutional care (orphanages). A loving foster family provides the individualised care and support, acceptance, and belonging that children need to grow into happy, healthy adults able to live independently and contribute to their communities. However well run an institution might be, it can never replace the wholesome and nurturing environment created by attentive, loving parents.
Since partnering with Care for Children in 2012, the Royal Thai Government has made tremendous progress in developing foster care as a positive alternative to institutional care for orphans and vulnerable children, with over half of all child welfare homes now managing foster care placements in their local communities.
Malee, who moved from institutional care to foster care as a teenager, describes life in a child welfare home:
‘As much as they wanted it to be like a family it wasn’t, because we were a bunch of kids who were all the same age, and the people who were looking after us were people who we didn’t know. They didn’t understand us, and we didn’t understand them.’
Life in the institution left her restless and insecure. She wanted freedom, to see what the world outside looked like. She felt that she had been “living inside someone else’s box”. When she was placed in a foster family, she finally found what she had been looking for:
‘Love wasn’t this massive thing that I had always imagined it might be; but instead, it started out as something small and it made me happy and I realised that it was enough, and it was just what I needed.’
To ensure that as many children as possible can experience the transformative love of a family, Care for Children is working closely with the Department of Children and Youth to help them establish foster care services in every province of Thailand. A national media campaign is now needed to raise awareness amongst families across the country about the opportunity to foster.
Not everyone is able to welcome a foster child into their family, but there are many ways to support the development of foster care in Thailand. To ensure many more children like Gop and Malee will have the opportunity to grow up in a family, please contact Care for Children to learn how you can help.