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Foster homes for homeless children

By ZHENG CAIXIONG and HE DAN  (China Daily)

09:06, May 08, 2013

Temporary parents will need to be between 30 and 60 years old

Plans are under way to enable local families in Guangzhou to foster homeless children once they receive special training and pass strict inspections. Guangdong's provincial capital will be the first city to allow families to foster homeless juveniles.

"Currently most of the city's homeless children are sent to welfare homes when they are found or rescued," Wen Yanmei, director of the publicity department of the Guangzhou Bureau of Civil Affairs, told China Daily on Tuesday.

However, Wen said the relevant departments are still studying the requirements for foster homes and there is no timetable yet.

The Guangzhou Center for Rescuing and Protecting Homeless Children will be responsible for training, selecting and evaluating the foster families, and it expects to start doing so in the coming months, according to Xu Fuxian, the head of the center.

More than 1,000 homeless children are sent to the city's welfare homes every year, most of them beggars and street performers.

Xu said the foster parents will need to be between 30 and 60 years old, with one of them able to look after the children full time. The foster parents are also required to be senior high school graduates or above and their annual household income will have to be the local average or above. All the foster families will be evaluated annually.

Yang Jianguang, a professor from the law school of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, said the city has the responsibility to provide a good living environment for its many homeless children. "The large number of migrant workers who came, and still come, to the city from around the country have contributed to its rapid economic growth," he told China Daily.

Although there are some, such as Chen Chunfang, a Guangzhou housewife, who consider the requirements too high.

"Many families that want to offer a helping hand to the city's homeless children will fail to meet the requirements," she said.

Ma Li, director of a rescue center for homeless children in Xuzhou, in Jiangsu province, said Guangzhou's initiative is a step forward in helping vagrant children.

"Sending children who have lost contact with their families or are unwilling to return home to foster families is a good idea," he said.

Compared with the closed management in rescue centers where vagrant children cannot go out as they wish, the environment in a foster family will be better for a child's healthy development, he said.

However, he stressed that potential foster parents should be aware of the problems.

"Many homeless children have some bad habits, such as stealing, or have left home because of sexual harassment. So whether foster parents have the energy or experience to deal with that remains a question," he said.

Meanwhile, any child under the age of 10 will not be allowed to stay on their own, according to a draft of the regulation on the protection of minors, which was submitted to the legislature of Guangzhou last month.

Zhang Wenjuan, deputy director of the Beijing Children's Legal Aid and Research Center, said a law governing at what age children can be legally left home alone is necessary but "it needs to have a clear definition of what constitutes leaving a child alone".

"Media reports of children dying in accidents when they are not supervised by adults appear from time to time. So it's very necessary to enhance parents' awareness of this issue.

"But given that in many families both parents are working, the government should also make more efforts to launch programs at schools, youth organizations and community centers to allow parents to leave their children in a safe place," Zhang said.

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