Musa was only 8 years old when Retrak met him living on the streets of Addis Ababa. His mum had left him with his father who was an abusive alcoholic. Musa worked at the side of roads collecting tar, he had little to eat, no warm clothes and was regularly beaten. The streets seemed like a better option. Retrak tried to help him return home, but even with the local council’s help, his father couldn’t manage and he eventually returned to Retrak.
Musa is one of many children Retrak has met on the streets whose family background is so difficult that returning home simply isn’t an option. But that doesn’t mean they have no chance of a home at all.
Foster care provides the chance for a child to experience the security of a loving family, which can be transformational in a child’s life. A safe and caring family provides a child with the best chance to grow and develop in a normally, without the burden of being alone, rejected or uncared for.
In Ethiopia there is very little foster care, but with support from USAID, Retrak has begun to work towards foster care for children on the streets. Retrak, together with UNICEF and other interested NGOs, established a Foster Care Work Group, based on the government’s 2010 Alternative Child Care Guidelines. One of the first tasks was to define what foster care looks like in the Ethiopian context. There is not even a word for it in the Amharic language. Retrak helped to facilitate the visit of a specialist to conduct one of the first trainings on foster care in Ethiopia. At the end of this training all 30 participants came away saying “we can also make this work for children in our country!”
Retrak begun to raise awareness and to develop check lists, parenting manuals and guidelines – all to ensure that placements are as safe as possible and in the best interest of every child. Retrak has worked closely with local organisations and government bodies to promote the recruitment of foster families, including placing posters in churches and local council offices.
In order to deepen understanding of foster care Retrak took a group of 12 local government and community leaders to visit a recently established foster care programme in the south of Ethiopia. The trip allowed the leaders to learn about the critical steps of recruitment, assessments, home visits, preparations, placements and reviews. The leaders were amazed when they visited a foster family that it seemed like any other family with all the children being cared for equally.