MANILA, Philippines - Every child has the right to grow up in a family.
It's a principle upheld by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the Philippines is a signatory.
But while Filipinos are known to have a very strong sense of family, poverty and difficult living conditions have forced thousands of children to grow up without a home or a family of their own.
According to the Norfil Foundation Incorporated, today, an estimated 11,000 Filipino children live in institutions awaiting permanent adoptive homes.
A home of foster care
For 26 years now, the Norfil Foundation has been helping provide neglected, abandoned and abused children a temporary alternative nurturing environment through its foster care program.
It began through the efforts of a Norwegian whose family stayed in the country for 5 years. They helped children in orphanages and eventually adopted 2 Filipino children. Together with a Filipina social worker who worked with the Social Welfare Department, they decided to help communities and prevent kids from being separated from their families, and later to set up the Foundation.
Aside from offering a foster home care for neglected, abandoned and abused children, Norfil also helps single expectant women, runs a nursery, sponsors community-based rehabilitation for disabled children and youth, assists people's organizations including cooperatives, and trains social workers.
Speaking on Mornings@ANC on Tuesday, Norfil Foundation Executive Director Tere Nuqui said it's a challenge to meet that need considering there are only 80 families in Metro Manila, Rizal Province, Samar and Cebu licensed to care for foster children.
"Last year, we were able to serve these children through these foster homes. They stay between 6 to 8 months and eventually some of their families resolve their problems, reunite with their birth families, while some went into adoption," she said.
How to qualify
Anyone who is at least 25 years old, of good moral character, and passes the selection process can qualify for foster care.
"Our government sets policies. If a family is interested, we conduct a foster care forum. The social worker then visits the family, informs them about foster care, and checks the family background on how they discipline their own children to make sure the children are not abused or maltreated," Nuqui said.
Nuqui added that they look for families who are willing, interested and motivated to take kids into their homes and treat them as members of their families even on a temporary basis.
"Some foster families have cared for 20 children, driven by the thought that if they don't think of these children, what will happen to them? We give them a chance to see children in orphanages and they'll realize it makes a lot of difference.
"Quite a lot of foster families belong to the low income group but they have have the motivation, the love, the parenting capability but financially they're not in a position to help the child on a long-term basis," said Nuqui.
Matching children to foster families is a primary concern, she added.
"A child who has developmental delays including speech delays would need more stimulation, more one-to-one care."
The child-caring agency or orphanage decides who among the children is the priority, toward the aim of simulating a wholesome family environment.
Nuqui admitted that given the tentative arrangement that comes with foster care, it has its downside.
"The most difficult part of fostering is when the time comes that the child will be taken away from you, specially if it's a young child," Nuqui explained.
But she noted, they provide would-be foster families with special sessions that teach them about how to deal with a child who isn't their own, and how to handle the separation.
"When the child gets adopted, we give them pictures and [they're] happy to know the child is doing well."
Norfil recently launched The Blueprints of Family Love: A Collection of Foster Care Stories which features the joys and challenges of becoming foster families.
Easing the pain
But as Norphil's experience shows, the easiest way to ease the pain is to open their doors to another child or opt for a more permanent arrangement: adoption.
"We've had cases where the foster family eventually decided to adopt the child," Nuqui said, adding that if that's the case, they'd have to apply as an adoptive family.
Those interested to open their homes or hearts to these children, or support Norfil's advocacy can call Norfil Foundation, Inc. at (632) 372-3577 to 79, visit www.norfil.com.ph or firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.