China Babies Adoption Research

China Babies Adoption Research
China Babies Adoption Research

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Crouching Tiger star goes into battle for million hidden orphans

Jane Macartney in Chengdu

The screen goddess stooped to give ten-year-old Li Hubin a teddy bear and a hug. The room fell silent as Zhang Ziyi, the star of Memoirs of a Geisha and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, listened to the chatter of the child who made history by becoming the first orphan to be handed to foster parents in the southwestern city of Chengdu.

For a disabled orphan in China, the chances of finding a loving home were once slim. But Zhang has teamed up with a British social worker to make sure that more abandoned children are given the chance of a family life.

Care for Children, a British-founded charity, has pioneered the concept of foster care in China.

“There are so many in China who do not have my good fortune. I want to give something back to society and since I love children this seemed like a way for me to make a difference,” Zhang, the charity’s patron, said. Such words from a screen idol could actually make a difference in a country where charity work is in its infancy.

When Robert Glover, the founder of the charity, arrived in Shanghai a decade ago there was no word for foster care in the Chinese language. With British government backing and a Chinese go-ahead, he advised the Shanghai state orphanage with the goal of founding a foster-care programme and childcare training. Today the charity has moved into a new headquarters in Beijing and Mr Glover has big ambitions for a programme that operates under the full aegis of the Chinese civil affairs programme.

“I say we have a vision for a million children in foster care. If I said 10,000 then we might only achieve 10,000, so why not say a million and see just how many children we can help?” he said.

The number has already climbed into the tens of thousands, from zero when he started. The families that offer homes to orphans linked to Care for Children and its Chinese parent organisation are effectively taking a child for life. They receive a small financial subsidy. This has enabled many poorer couples, and those who already have a child under the strict one-couple, one-child family planning policy, to take an orphan into their home. “They don’t make money, but they don’t lose,” Mr Glover said.

The transformation wrought by moving children, many of them disabled, into a loving family home can verge on the miraculous. He cites a failure rate of 7 per cent in China compared with about 25 per cent in the West. “China does family very well. You’ll find the entire village gets behind a family,” Mr Glover said. The progress of Hubin has astonished even Mr Glover, who remembers first seeing him as a year-old baby lying motionless in an orphanage, almost paralysed by cerebral palsy. When the boy was handed at the age of 3 to foster parents he could do nothing for himself. “We didn’t think he could ever use his fingers to hold a pen or to write so we tried to teach him the piano to exercise his fingers,” his mother said. He now plays fluently. “My favourite tune is Safeguarding the Yellow River,” he said, pouring milk into a glass and taking a gulp. He is hoping to have a try at Beethoven soon. He can also read and write.

Zhang offered to autograph his teddy bear and showed him what she had written. Hubin read out loud: “Study hard!”

Tens of thousands more such children still await foster parents but Mr Glover is confident that the foster programme he helped to set up is now deeply embedded in China. It is expanding at such a pace that he has long since stopped trying to keep count of the numbers.

Fostering ties

- The Hawaiian practice of hanai allowed parents to chose others to bring up a child if they believed that this was in its best interest. Parents could never reclaim their child but were expected to maintain contact through regular visits

- A study of fostering in Iran in the 1990s documented fostering based on “milk kinship”. Children wet-nursed by another woman became her milk children and she and her husband could foster them if their own parents were unable to care for them

- The US has a system of kinship foster care in which a family, in consultation with a social worker, may choose to give a child to the care of relatives, often grandparents, for a set period. A court can also insist that a child is placed with kin if necessary

- In Burkino Faso, children are often fostered by other families for a relatively short period, spending on average just under three years away from home. It is thought this developed to address imbalances in the age, number and sex of children in different households

Source: Universities of Kent, Yale and Hawaii, Hilo; Pediatric Nursing Magazine

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