June Update

Time to share some highlights from last month’s trip to Bucharest. It was a privilege to have Cheryl Cunningham with me, from Rayleigh, Essex. Cheryl talked with our foster carers about life story work and the importance of helping children in care to understand their biological roots and identity. It was touching to hear some of our foster carers sharing stories of how they have tried to help the children in their care to understand what has happened to them and how they had come to be cared for in foster placements. This can be incredibly difficult where the child has been simply abandoned as a baby and little may be known of the birth parents. Cheryl, pictured to my right, below, also shared some of her own personal story with the mums in our abandonment prevention project, which gave them a powerful story of hope and resilience.

Maternity support group
We had the opportunity to take all our foster carers and HQ team out for a meal, which is always a treat each year. It was great to see the relaxed atmosphere as the foster mums are so used to meeting and chatting and sharing stories with each at their regular support meetings. Many of the foster carers describe RICF as being like family to them. They very much appreciate the availability of the HQ team to discuss any problems as and when they arise, and the way they are treated as valued team members not just employees.

Annual team meal

Suzie May 16 It was wonderful also to visit three families in their homes – two families supported through our abandonment prevention project, and one foster family caring for two children (pictured below).
Visiting family homes gives such a powerful insight into the difficulties people are facing, whether it be imminent eviction, extreme poverty, relationship difficulties or just the joys of caring for an energetic young foster child freshly returned from a weekend with her slightly chaotic biological family with whom she is encouraged to keep up regular contact in the hope of eventual reintegration.
It is humbling to hear some of the stories. For example,  a single mother of forty, who had escaped a violent relationship, now working long hours in refuse collection supporting her own three children and now her eldest son’s girlfriend and their child. RICF is now getting alongside this young man and his girlfriend to equip them with the necessary budgeting and parenting skills to manage their own little family.

  Cheryl visiting one of our fos   
It was great to catch up with our HQ team and discuss the direction for each of our projects over the next 6-12 months and beyond. The team are currently getting together documentation to seek authorisation to allow RICF to deliver training for potential foster carers to receive the necessary accreditation for their role. Simona and Ovidiu already have the diploma required to deliver the training and we feel that helping train potential foster carers is a good way to increase RICF’s future impact in Romania.
Team meeting at RICF HQ
It was great to hear from Simona about what she learned during her 10 days' UK work experience at Team Fostering, Sheffield and Cantercare (residential service for young mums) and Porchlight (services for the homeless), both in Canterbury. Simona has already started implementing some of the ideas she picked up in the UK, and has been allocating a quarter of an hour from each meeting to introducing these ideas.

Examples of ideas already implemented include:

  • Simona now gives a name label to each person present at meetings – so everyone present can learn the others’ names.
  • Personal diaries are now kept by each project participant and brought to each session. There is the possibility for these to be sent by email by project participants with internet access.
  • Course rules / meeting rules – reading rules to participants each meeting e.g. not deviating from the subject, not speaking over each other, going through the programme for the day
  • Cleanliness at the work place – rotation for clearing up after meeting, foster carers now have a rota for cleaning up after their monthly meeting. 
young people IT education Marc
RICF’s Invest in Education project, sponsored by Bushey Baptist Church, England, has been going well and has been well attended, including by 2 mothers in our maternity project, one joining in with the teenagers group and one with the adults. Adults e.g. foster carers have started with much lower levels of knowledge than the teenagers who have some exposure to computers at school.

Many participants have been very grateful, as this has offered them an opportunity to develop a skill they never could have afforded to pay for themselves. Many thanks to the Canterbury family who donated a second-hand laptop for this project.
Catching up
One definite highlight of the trip was meeting up with two brothers who were supported by RICF from the age of 7 and 11, and are now living independently, completing their university education, aged 21 and 25. Such a privilege to get to see these young men who are really grateful for the support they were offered and the investment in them as individuals when children, so they could have opportunities that may never otherwise have been available for them.

To update you on the financial situation which I described in some detail prior to my recent visit, excellent news is that we have three new UK donors who have recently signed up to give regularly, giving between them a total of £120 monthly. This is enough to pay the quarter-time salary for own new social worker, Emilia, who is a fantastic addition to the team. Emilia has just completed her social work degree and came to know RICF through doing practical placements with RICF as part of her degree course through the University of Bucharest. She has a lovely gentle spirit and is friendly, enthusiastic and approachable and we are delighted to have her working with us. The 2 hour per day role is also well suited to her as she hopes to continue her studies with a Masters.

We have made some adjustments to our monthly budget to reduce monthly outgoings, but do still have a deficit of around £1000 monthly. We can cover this from reserves in the short term, but will revisit the budget in the autumn, and may well need to make further reductions. If you are in a place to start giving to support this work, or to increase your giving, please do get in touch before that so we can plan accordingly.

Mum and baby

When making adjustments to our budget we have aimed to maintain and grow impact whilst keeping costs as low as possible. Within our abandonment prevention project we have opted to keeping the number of project participants at 10 mum and baby pairs rather than expanding to 12 as previously hoped; we will maintain financial support for each mum and baby pair at 300 RON / month (approx £50) for the first 6 months, then reducing this to 200 RON / month for the remainder of the period of participation.

We will continue to encourage graduation from the project as soon as women are ready, and only in exceptional cases would total participation exceed 12 months. We are opening up part of the support group meeting for previous project beneficiaries, who want to take the opportunity to meet up together monthly, chat and support each other through prayer. This means that even after financial support and formal parenting skills training cease, there will still be an opportunity for social and spiritual support. We have supported over 60 cases since the project started in 2009, and are still the only foundation in Bucharest doing this preventative work.

We feel this project is our most relevant project to meet current social needs and support our core values, especially 'Children belong in loving families'. We are teaching basic parenting skills and skills for independent living, allowing children to remain with their own families, all on a very low budget with very high impact. It is also very relevant to our core value 'Protection from harm'. We are equipping mothers to know how to respond to domestic violence and helping them to ensure a safe environment foor themselves and their children.

Within the foster care project ‘A Family for me’ we have opted to reduce the supplement that RICF provides from 250 RON to 200 RON / month per child cared for. We are also phasing out financial support for children reintegrated with family members. Children and young people we have been supporting with a grandparent or other relative will continue to be invited to participate in appropriate courses and activities that RICF is running. In this way we can still maintain contact with the families and be available if the young people run into difficulties for which they require counselling or psychological support. However they will no longer receive any financial support, and we will no longer recruit new participants in this project, at least for the time being. 

Thanks so much to everyone for your support for the work of RICF. Please do get in touch with any ideas or comments!                            

P.S. If you are not already signed up with easyfundraising to support RICF at no extra cost to yourself when you shop on-line please do register with them at https://www.easyfundraising.org.uk/causes/ricf/. The small donations really do add up. We currently have 24 people signed up and have raised over £500. Could you help us double that number?

Suzie Marsden, 12/06/2016