This important study on foster care practices in India by BOSCO, a Bangalore based organization promoting a non-institutional model of child care and rehabilitation, provides important insight into the history, approaches, challenges and opportunities facing the development of foster care services in the country. It highlights that foster care has a long history in India spanning across five decades, yet despite this there was very little data available about the foster care organizations providing such services and the various models of foster care they practice. This study sought to remedy this and present a picture of foster care practices across nine Indian states, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Orissa, Maharashtra, Goa, Delhi and Rajasthan.
Despite the adoption of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of children) Act of 2000 and the Integrated Child Protection scheme (IcPs) which promote family based services for children, there is not a single and common framework for foster care or implementation models in India. The study’s findings reflect both the diversity but also the implications of a lack of common ground in terms of what constitutes foster care in India and what processes and procedures are considered good practices.
The 33 foster care agencies considered for the study offered different types of foster care services, with 20 organisations involved in individual (non-relative) foster care and 15 organisations support kinship care placements. Eight organisations practice what is called ‘group foster care’ wherein a group of children (on average 15) are placed with a foster parent (house father or mother, or trained staff). Out of 10 specialised adoption agencies included in the study, six had encouraged foster care for keeping the children under the care of a family before permanent adoption. Two organisations promoted a child-headed household model for older children, with responsibility assigned to one of the neighbours to supervise the children in the household. Most of these organisations were found to favor long term foster care due to the unavailability of parents for short term fostering, and the study highlighted the lack of support to foster families, including monetary support but also recognition in the society as one of the key challenges faced by these organizations in recruiting foster parents. The study’s findings highlight a range of positive practices and challenges. For example, the agencies involved in implementing foster care currently identify only those children who are from their own institutions or government homes for children and for communities geographically within their areas of function.
Three states (Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Karnataka) with government enabled foster care schemes had the highest number of organisations involved in foster care service. The study indicates that 17 organisations provided financial support to the foster families and that 95% of foster care placements have been done by organisations (government or non – government) which receive funds to support foster families, while agencies without support for foster placements have been successful in only 5% of the total foster care placements. During the study period, the data collected showed that 10,761 children were in foster care placements but out of this, 77.4% of children were provided ‘placements’ as part of a single government scheme established since 1995 in the State of Maharashtra with support from UNICEF, Bal Sangopan Yojana (BSY). This scheme includes kinship care, foster care, and sponsorship for children of single parent. Apart from this, 6 organisations were involved in offering group foster care for 914 children in different states. The remaining 1,525 placements included individual foster care placements, kinship care and pre-adoption foster care placements offered by 22 organisations. Data collection is highlighted by the study as a major challenge. Although 31 out of 33 organizations reported conducting a case study and home enquiry for each child, only 10 organisations could provide gender-disaggregated data.
A very low percentage (24%) of organisations relied on written down foster care policies (either of their own or that of the state government) while 70% of the organisations functioned without any such policies or directives. Though 66% of the organisations formalize the foster care placements, only 33% of organisations get the order from the competent authority declaring that a child is legally free for foster care before placing, him/her in foster care. The study also found that these organizations faced a major challenge while dealing with the state machinery. In states with a foster care scheme, budget allocation is meager whilst in state without such a scheme neither the foster parents nor the foster care organisations are supported financially by the state. The study makes a number of important recommendations to build on the promising practice and address some of the shortcomings.
This study suggests that all different types of foster care options must be explored and tested to suit the individual needs of children living in a diverse Indian society. It also expresses concern that although foster care services have a key role to play in India, such services are only available in a handful of areas. The study strongly recommends the establishment of a gate keeping system to evaluate the level of necessity of institutional care for each child and ensure all other alternate family- based forms of child care are completely ruled out, must institutional care be considered for a child.