updated 5 Feb 2012, 14:43
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Wed, Dec 07, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network
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Challenges of foster parenting
by Mona Elizalde Montevirgen

No, no, no… he's not my adopted child," highly driven businesswoman Marilyn "Mallie" del Bianco was quick to say to correct her socialite friends who were obviously intrigued by the new 7-year-old olive-skinned boy with her. "This is Joshua, my foster child," she announced.

"Oh, but fostering is not adopting," Del Bianco clarified.

Although adopting and fostering are similar in the aspect of rearing a child as your own, fostering is only temporary. A foster child may stay in a home for a short term of one week up to six months (usually while awaiting adoptive placement) or a long-term period of six months to about a year for reasons relative to the best interests of the child.

Fostering is defined as a planned period of substitute family care for a child when the biological family cannot care for him or her due to death, illness, imprisonment, abandonment, neglect or war.

The Parenting Foundation of the Philippines, Inc. (PFP) is an organization engaged in fostering; it's accredited by Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

Executive director and psychologist Maria Paz "Pazie" U. de Guzman said she strongly believes in the right of the child to grow up in a family. Many abandoned or abused children are often placed in a residential facility, which may result in the child getting substandard attention, care, guidance and support due to the huge number of children in the facility, she explained.

A comparative study has revealed that foster care is much better than institutional care not only in terms of costs but in the quality of child nurturance as well. The child may also enjoy a "sense of family" or belonging in a foster care program.

Full responsibility

"I got Joshua at 6½ years and he will be turning 8 in November," Del Bianco said. Already with two grown-up children and a grandson by her daughter named Sandro, Del Bianco said she is very hands-on when it comes to Joshua.

"It is full responsibility especially now that Joshua is of school age," she said. "When I first got him, wala siyang alam. Puro Tagalog, but not talking much. My grandson naman, he is all English. Pero, children that they are, they learn so fast and now, they're the closest of friends."

Del Bianco said Joshua tends to hang around her all the time to which she would jokingly say, "I think he knows who holds the money… or who makes the decisions at home. But seriously, I guess Joshua simply wants to belong. Siyempre, marami siyang insecurities."

His insecurities might have stemmed from what he went through before Del Bianco came into his life. He was just a baby when a woman pretending to be his mother left him to the care of religious sisters. (She was really his father's new girlfriend.)

When Joshua was becoming a toddler, and no signs of anyone ever returning for him, the sisters decided to transfer him to an orphanage where he could be better taken care of. It was only a little more than a year ago through the help of PFP that he moved to Del Bianco 's home as a foster child.

Fostering vs adoption

Del Bianco is aware that while fostering is less of a hassle than adoption when it comes to certain legalities, she still must be ready physically, emotionally, financially and mentally to carry out the task of parenting.

Fostering is not a walk in the park. Del Bianco must deal with the challenges of motherhood all over again. She will have to worry when Joshua contracts a fever or picks a fight in school. She will have to patiently and lovingly teach and explain to Joshua the consequences of bad behavior… and how doing a good deed reaps its reward while behaving badly is punished.

Best option

PFP guides foster parents through periodic training seminars on parenting. De Guzman said family is still the best option for children. With over two decades of operation, PFP has successfully placed over a thousand children in foster or adoptive homes here in the Philippines; not counting those reunited with kin and those whom DSWD (and Inter-Country Adoption Board or ICAB) have successfully placed abroad.

PFP works with two types of foster families: the regular and the volunteer. For the first type, a monthly subsidy of P2,500 is given to the foster family to cover the child's expenses. Volunteer families, like Del Bianco's, shoulder the cost of everything.

PFP coordinates closely with 20 volunteer families as well as 35-40 regular families in Metro Manila and some cities in neighboring southern Luzon.

Foster carers started out with only infants and toddlers. Later, preschoolers were also taken in. At the moment, PFP even accommodates children way into their teens.

Pazie said a foster family does not have to be wealthy to take in a child. "We have foster families from the lower middle-income bracket (one foster parent works as a security guard) who are willing to become substitute families for these children."

Pazie said DSWD has strengthened and expanded foster care services by allowing foreign nationals living in the Philippines to foster; and for those qualified, to adopt the child they are fostering.

Successful fostering

The Beto Family is a lower middle-class family headed by Epifanio and Lydia Beto that started fostering children in 1990.

Kids from various backgrounds, personality differences and even health problems went under the Betos' care and watch.

God-loving, affectionate, helpful and patient with kids, the Betos managed to survive the odds and tirelessly stood as parents to 25 kids who underwent their foster parenting.

In 2005, the Beto family was voted by a panel of judges led by DSWD Undersecretary Alice Bala as the Most Outstanding and Inspiring Foster Family and was given the Chairman Simeon C. Medalla Award.

Making a difference

"We hope to raise the ratio of foster parenting against putting the children in a residential facility," said Del Bianco.

"I would like to start a ripple effect among my friends, raise their consciousness and get them to start thinking seriously about how foster care can change lives."

"People may donate P1,000 or P2,000 for these children and that would already spell a difference," she added.

A bill on foster care is being pushed for approval in both chambers of Congress.

If the bill is passed, then DSWD-accredited NGOs will benefit from a regular budget This means that more children will have a better stake in life.

Incidentally, Sen. Pia Cayetano who sponsored the Senate bill has become a licensed foster carer herself.

Looking back, Del Bianco said she was took Joshua as a foster child so that her grandson, Sandro, could have a playmate. She added that the two have bonded like the best of buddies, if not real brothers.

"By fostering, I'm actually helping two kids grow up healthy and happy." she said, beaming with satisfaction.

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