Orphans better off with families: experts

09:30, December 10, 2010      

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Orphans at the Datong Institute of Social Welfare in North China's Shanxi province do rehabilitation exercises. (Lan Tian / China Daily)

Family-based foster care is one of the best ways to bring up orphans, as real homes are better for children's development than institutions, child welfare professionals have said.

The Datong Institute of Social Welfare (DISW) in Datong, a city in northern Shanxi, is one of China's earliest State-invested social welfare institutes. It has developed a methodology for raising orphans that experts call the "Datong foster care model", which began taking shape when the institute was founded in September 1949.

Located at the border junction of Shanxi and Hebei provinces, and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, Datong had a large floating population that included vagrants and orphans on the eve of New China's founding.

At that time, the institute had only two workers, who were unable to care for all the orphans. They had to send the infants to local rural families with women who could breast-feed. The local government compensated foster mothers with a few kilograms of millet.

"The institute managers did not have any other choice then," DISW Director Jin Baoli said.

"They would never have imagined their decision would turn out to be the best model for orphans' development. Decades of practice have proven that growing up in the warmth of a family makes it easier for an orphan to engage in real social life and reduces crime among orphans who are minors."

There are about 712,000 orphans nationwide, a 24-percent increase over 2005. About 86 percent live in rural areas, according to this year's Ministry of Civil Affairs figures.

China has about 300 State-invested child welfare institutes and about 800 privately run welfare institutes that accommodate children and other groups. They care for 114,000 orphans.

In 2003, the ministry issued a regulation to better supervise family foster care, which provided a legal basis for placing foster children with families. The Datong city government soon after issued measures on the protection of abandoned children's rights and interests, which became the country's first city-level regulation to safeguard the rights of orphans and disabled children.

The regulation stated minors abandoned by their biological parents can be raised by families with adult guardians aged 30 to 65.

The regulation included standards for foster families. Families must have stable incomes, no criminal records or serious diseases, prefer to have their own biological children and enjoy good relations with their neighbors.

Qualified families can apply to become foster households but must first complete training classes and pass exams organized by the DISW.

Foster families are required to sign contracts with civil affairs departments. The foster placements can be either long term or short term. Local civil affairs departments, which are the government bodies responsible for orphans, compensate foster families to cover the children's costs of living, education and medical care.

"Over the past 61 years, Datong's foster family model has developed in a more scientific and strict way," DISW Deputy Director Mao Ruibo said.

The institute's staff members also regularly visit and evaluate foster parents, who are required to faithfully report foster children's conditions, she said.

By Lan Tian and Sun Ruisheng, China Daily

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