FEATURE: Group urges families to foster troubled teens

By Lo Hsin-chen and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Wed, May 29, 2013 - Page 5

More volunteers are needed to take in teenage victims of rape and household violence, the Taiwan Fund for Children and Families’ Pingtung County branch said, calling on the public to help it take care of troubled adolescents.

Recent statistics compiled by the group show that the number of foster families in the Pingtung area hit a new low over the past five years.

Though 29 families volunteered to take in victims of rape or domestic violence during this period, another 27 opted out of the foster family program, making the net total of new foster homes a paltry two and bringing the total number to 57.

More than 30 percent of foster families in the region have at least a decade of experience in caring for abused teenagers, the group said, adding that there are 70 teenagers currently in the foster care program.

The group said that in addition to there being fewer people signing up to be foster parents, few of the families who do join the program are willing to take in teenagers.

Of the families that signed on with the program in the past five years, 63 percent are only willing to take in foster children who are seven years old or younger, and 29 percent are only willing to take in elementary-school kids, the fund said. None of the new foster families want to take care of anyone in junior-high school.

The group said that 47 percent of the wards it has under its protection are older than seven and of these, 23 percent are in junior-high school.

Wu Li-hsueh (吳麗雪), head of the Pingtung County Government’s Social Affairs Department, said the county government has to relocate about 200 children annually, at a cost of about NT$50 million (US$1.6 million).

Wu said that the high cost and demand mean that the county government is only able to house about half of the children who need protection, and called for families that are capable of taking care of such children to step up and help the county government.

The group is planning to hold a meeting to promote the foster program on June 22.

“We are inviting couples between the ages of 30 and 55 who have been married for at least three years, and one of which has a stable job, to inquire about joining the program,” personnel at the branch said, adding that having experience raising children was an additional asset.

One couple who are foster parents spoke about their experiences in the hope of encouraging more families to do the same.

Huang Nan-yi (黃楠益) and his wife, Chou Wen-ping (周文萍), have taken in five teenage girls during the five years that they have been in the program, each with different problems ranging from theft to violent behavior.

“Although we had taken them in, they were always very wary of us initially,” Chou said.

Recounting their experience with first girl they took in, Chou said the adolescent had been abandoned when she was two years old and had been through the trauma of failed adoption attempts. This miserable childhood had made the girl very distrusting and left her with a bad temper, Chou said.

“We told her repeatedly that she had to remain calm if she wanted to resolve a problem and that throwing tantrums would not solve anything,” Chou said, adding that during the year she stayed at the couple’s home, she became a different person.

“She became much more confident and was eventually adopted by a couple in the US,” Chou said.

“We tried to respect all the kids we took in and see the world from their point of view,” the couple said, adding that they had watched “all of the girls we fostered change drastically for the better, and one of them even won second place at the National Competition of Sports and Athletics.”

Chou said that when a situation with their foster child arose that they did not know how to handle, they just approached it calmly and refrained from being judgemental or critical.

Citing another girl they had taken in as an example, Chou said that although the girl was excessively promiscuous, they were accepting of the girl’s choices and instead of punishing her, taught her how to stay safe, be healthy and distinguish between what was appropriate behavior and what was not.

“We also tried to get her involved in activities that would focus her attention constructively,” Chou said.

Huang said he was grateful that his wife and two daughters had supported his decision to sign the family up for the foster program, adding that the family had benefited from the experience.