Mon, Jul 24, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Poor foster care system victimizes abused kids

By Jean Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Wen Shu-ying (溫淑英), a Rukai Aborigine and foster mother who has cared for Aborigine children for more than 16 years, discovered one day that some of her foster children were being sent back to their families and being harmed a second time.

Seeing her foster children regain their confidence and happiness away from their abusive family only to be thrown back into the snake pit, Wen decided to start "adopting" some of the children. With the help of relatives and church friends, she turned her home into a half-way house six years ago and adopted a total of 18 children.

"Foster families aren't long-term. When these children are sent back, they are often abused a second time. This is a problem that the government and social welfare groups have not yet been able to effectively tackle," Wen said.

Formerly a social worker, Wen said she was surprised to find when she started serving in Aboriginal villages in Taitung County that more families abused their children than she expected.

The number of Aboriginal children sent to foster families underscores the twin problems of unemployment and abuse in some Aboriginal families. However, the lack of government statistics on the subject presents a challenge to better understand and deal with the problem.

Huang Chen-jun (黃貞容), an official at the Child Welfare Bureau, said that the bureau did not have statistics on the adoption of Aboriginal children in particular, only overall figures on adoption in the country.

Statistics show that most children who were put up for adoption mainly came from families with economic difficulties or single mothers, she said.

Peng Li-chen (彭麗真), general director of the Garden of Hope Foundation's branch in Taitung County -- the area with the second-biggest Aborigine population in the country -- said that a larger number of the Aboriginal children from problem families were sent either to foster families or foster organizations rather than put up for adoption.

According to figures provided by the foundation, 31 Aboriginal boys and 27 girls under the age of 18 were removed from their families last year.

Abuse was cited as the main reason for the separation, with some parents suffering from alcoholism, economic difficulties or deemed irresponsible, Peng said.

Unemployment was a key trigger in many of these cases of abuse, Peng said.

With the growing employment of laborers from Southeast Asia, some Aborigines lost their jobs and returned home to their families, she added.

Peng noted that in the past, most Aborigine children were raised by their grandparents while their parents worked, oftentimes away from their home villages or counties. With the parents returning and facing pressure from unemployment, family problems have emerged, she said.

Wang Hui-ling (王慧玲), a section chief at the Council of Indigenous Peoples' health and social welfare department, said that many individual cases were blown out of proportion by people in the city, since their standards for "poverty" and "economic difficulties" were much higher than in the Aboriginal villages.

Wang added that the council did not have enough resources and social workers to conduct large-scale research on how many Aboriginal children had been set up for adoption or put under foster care.

Meanwhile, Wen has temporarily closed her half-way home, but still has 11 children staying with her. She hopes that the house can reopen before the end of this year with more resources to help care for more children who cannot return to their original families.

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