Homes to Grow is the flagship project of the St Francis Trust. The Homes to Grow are foster homes for children who have been abandoned or orphaned as a result of neglect or of their parents contracting HIV/AIDS. Some of these children will also be living with HIV/AIDS. The foster homes operate according to a model provided by Home from Home. This model has proved to be highly successful in providing children with supportive family environments in which they can develop to their full potential. Children living in these homes are not faced with the stigma of being “institutional” children, and they reside in their own communities in which they are familiar and comfortable.
We successfully completed the building of our first foster home in Masiphumelele in September 2010, and have the filled the places for all six children. We are indebted to our House Mother Joyce, who has been with us since the inception. Her role is pivotal in nurturing and guiding the children in the rich Xhosa traditions and culture as well as providing the security of a stable family life.
In March, 2014 we purchased a second plot with an existing home which needed to be upgraded and remodelled. Building could only commenced after the planning formalities were cleared after a lengthy delay. This second home opened in September 2015 and the house mother Emily is in residence with five children with an opening for one more child to make up the family complement of six.
Key to the success of Homes to Grow is the close association that the St Francis Outreach Trust enjoys with Home from Home. Home from Home encourages smaller organisations to use their foster home model and to work with them in partnership so that effective foster care services can be replicated and provided to more children in need. The Trust therefore operates with the full support of Home from Home, and makes use of the invaluable guidance and experience that the organisation has to offer. By being taken under Home from Home’s wing, the Trust can launch its operations safe in the knowledge that its foster children will receive the best possible environment and care in which to grow. The St Francis Outreach Trust must still finance its own operations, and therefore requires its own funding to ensure the continuation of this prosperous partnership.
The model foster homes that have been used successfully by Home from Home are based on the wisdom that a loving and caring family environment is essential if children are to develop and grow into secure, confident adults. If children cannot be cared for by their own parents or guardians because of neglect or abandonment, it then makes no sense to place them in large institutional children’s homes in which they are not given the special attention and care that they need. Each Homes to Grow foster home therefore houses no more than six children, and a live-in Foster Mother cares for the children in each home. The homes are located in the children’s own communities where they have grown up and where they attend local schools and churches. Every effort is made to keep siblings together.
The Foster Mothers are legally recognised as the children’s foster parents, and the close network of Foster Mothers ensures that they learn from one another and are able to provide each other with support. They are in turn supervised and supported by a professional team that is affiliated to Home from Home. The small ratio of children to Foster Mothers means that every child is able to have a large amount of interaction with his or her caregiver, a feature that is sorely missing from larger children’s homes. Through these measures the children living in the Homes to Grow receive the best possible medical, educational, emotional and physical care possible.
The buildings are designed to look like other permanent structures within the surrounding community, and there are no distinguishing features to identify them as foster homes (e.g. signage). The physical environment therefore plays a huge part in ensuring that the children living in the homes are not viewed by the community as being at all different. Low cost construction methods are used using local labour, adding to the provision of employment in under-resourced communities. The construction of buildings is therefore a local process that benefits community members as much as possible.
The buildings have three bedrooms (two with bunk beds and one single bed each, for the six children and one room for the foster mother), a central open plan room, which encloses kitchen, dining (table/counter with high chairs) and sitting area, and a bathroom with shower and toilet and a separate second toilet. In the back of the house will be enough space for a playground with a jungle gym and a small garden to plant vegetables.
Foster Mothers are chosen for their suitability to look after six children, caring for them as if they were their own. While there are no definite criteria in deciding whether or not candidates are suitable for fulfilling Foster Mother positions, it is preferable that Foster Mothers display some of the following characteristics:
- Having had their own children, who are no longer their dependents in their daily care
- A natural affinity for children and relevant experience in caring for children
- To be either single or in a stable, committed, long term relationship
- To be of the same ethnicity and language as the children in need of care
- To be physically well and active, and to be of high integrity
- To be able to manage a household, including budgeting
- To be screened and approved as a Foster Mother by an independent, reputable welfare agency
All of the Homes to Grow’s running costs to implement its structures and provide its services will be met by donor funding. Foster Mothers are remunerated both by the Trust and by receiving government grants for fostering children.
Admission and referrals (family reunification)
Many children who arrive at Homes to Grow have been taken out of their parents’ care due to neglect, abuse or abandonment. Social workers are responsible for enacting the legal processes of moving children from detrimental family environments into the more suitable and nurturing foster homes. Where possible, these social workers must work with the children’s families so that they can create suitable home environments for the children to return to. If this process cannot take place then the children’s foster guardianship is reviewed every two years, and children can remain in foster care until they are 18 years old. In the cases children coming to Homes to Grow as a result of their parents having HIV/AIDS-related complications, the children are likely to stay in the care of their Foster Mothers until they turn 18.