Facilitating foster care

Amira Hisham, Saturday 10 Jun 2023

Egypt is facilitating procedures for children waiting to join loving homes through a new centre for foster care.

Ministry of social Solidarity-orphans-Foster -Natonal Council for Childhood and Mootherhood  / photo
Ministry of social Solidarity-orphans-Foster -Natonal Council for Childhood and Mootherhood / photo: AP


Egypt’s Ministry of Social Solidarity is establishing the first national foster care centre in a step to deinstitutionalise the system and help children of “decent descent” — children deprived of parental care, especially those of unknown parents — to grow up in alternative loving homes instead of foster institutions.

The centre is slated to open in the near future and is being built in collaboration by the ministries of social solidarity and health and FACE for Children in Need, a non-profit organisation.

The project will work on directing children from birth to six years to suitable alternative homes, Magdi Hassan, head of the Central Department for Social Welfare at the Ministry of Social Solidarity, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

The centre is meant to save children and families seeking to foster time and effort and emotional upheavals, he added. Until now, orphaned children and children of decent descent are sent to one of the 29 National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) centres, affiliated to the Ministry of Health and Population, or one of the 43 residential nurseries affiliated to the Ministry of Social Solidarity.

Meanwhile, caregivers visit the NCCM centres and residential nurseries, located across the nation, to find and connect with the child they want to include in their family, Hassan noted.

Also according to the existing system, the prosecution must authorise the placement of an orphaned child in an NCCM centre where they reside for three months before they are taken to a residential nursery, he explained.

The new centre serves as a one-stop shop, where the children are directed to the centre where they are provided with legal documents, psychological support and healthcare, while fostering families can head to the centre to see the children they want to foster instead of visiting NCCM centres and residential nurseries. They can also finalise all the needed documents for fostering at the centre, Hassan stated.

A child is allowed to remain in the new centre for three months, he added.

The centre is due to open in Cairo, Giza, Alexandria, and Qalioubiya, Hassan said. More centres are planned in later phases.

Each of the new centres will be divided into two departments: one for babies under two years of age, and another for children aged two to six for whom the centre performs psychological and social interventions, he continued.

“The procedures were not as easy back in 2018 when I fostered my daughter,” said Yomna Dahroug, who launched an initiative under the name Ehtedan (Fostering). The initiative later became a civil institution.

The Ministry of Social Solidarity has been facilitating foster care procedures and they can even be conducted online. On the ministry’s website, there is a section on its front page with a picture of smiling children and a caption “Foster a child at home… Press here to apply.”

After filing for application, the ministry contacts the applicants before they head to the Central Committee for Fostering Families, available in every governorate. The committee studies the requests and conducts a thorough social investigation as well as psychological and physical tests to determine whether the applicants are eligible to care for a child, Hassan said.

The next step, he added, the parents have to attend — in person, not online — free-of-charge training designed by the Ministry of Social Solidarity and implemented in partnership with specialised civil organisations. Following further interviews, the committee decides whether the applicants meet the conditions to foster a child.

If rejected, the wannabe-caregivers can file a complaint with the Supreme Committee for Fostering Families, he pointed out.

In a step to encourage foster care in Egypt, the state has recently allowed divorced women, widows, and unmarried women over 30 to apply to foster a child.

Hassan is proud of how successful the foster care system in Egypt has become. Thus far, 14,000 children have found their loving forever homes, he added.

The Ministry of Social Solidarity is working on a new bill and drafting a new strategy for foster care, all while seeking to amend some laws in this regard, he noted.

“We are working towards closing NCCM centres and residential nurseries gradually. We wish that, come 2030, foster care institutions will be children-free,” he stated.

Last year, 48 foster care institutions were closed and the current occupancy in those still functioning is estimated at 67 per cent.

After taking a child home, some caregivers change their minds and return the child to the state institution, resulting in a child bearing a psychological scar. “These caregivers are fined LE20,000, which is deposited in the bank in the child’s name, and the caregivers are blacklisted for good. They cannot apply to foster again,” Hassan said.

Dahroug and an unmarried woman seeking to foster said the new centre will eliminate several obstacles, including attempts by some workers in foster institutions to hide children — especially those with distinctive features like blond hair and blue eyes — from visitors. The reason, the two women said, is to keep the children at the institution and prevent its closure. The other woman added that the workers believe children with distinctive features garner more sympathy from caregivers.

On the other hand, some caregivers opt to foster children of a certain age or prefer girls to boys due to religious and social reasons, Dahroug pointed out.

This is why there is a long waiting list to foster girls, she added.

However, some women now opt to breastfeed their foster baby boys — especially if they have a baby girl of their own — because in Islamic Sharia, if the boy is breastfed from the mother, the girl becomes impermissible for him in marriage.

According to Sharia, children who have been breastfed five full feeds by the same woman are considered “milk-siblings”.

Asmaa Sadek, a paediatrician and breastfeeding consultant, said many women visit her clinic to start breastfeeding their foster children. “In 95 per cent of the cases, the breastfeeding is conducted successfully,” she said.

“The women also request a certificate from my clinic that the babies were breastfed to present it to Al-Azhar institution and Dar Al-Iftaa to receive another certificate that the child is their ‘son through breastfeeding,’” Sadek said.

Dahroug added that another challenge facing caregivers is the social negative views and ignorant practices from the surrounding community as well as the lack of social support.

Other challenges face families that foster children over the age of two, resulting in having to give them back to the foster care institution, she said.

One of the most difficult moments, Dahroug lamented, “is when you have to tell the children — especially the adolescents — they are not biologically your own.”

Search Keywords:
Short link: