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Number of foster families in Estonia decreasing by the year

Baby.
Baby. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Each year, fewer and fewer families in Estonia are interested in becoming a foster family. According to foster parents, one reason for this may be the lack of support in caring for a traumatized child.

Each year, nearly 300 children in Estonia are in need of foster placements. Last year, foster placements were found for just 51.

At the same time, the number of people willing to foster a child is dwindling by the year; while 72 families were prepared to provide foster care in 2020, that number had dropped by last year to 42.

"Evidently, it's not even a question of not wanting to, but rather they might be reluctant, because the reality is that a child in foster care is in fact a child with a history of trauma," explained Jane Snaith, board member at the nonprofit Family for Every Child (MTÜ Iga Lapsele Pere).

"They have a lot of baggage, and we don't know what's in there, how many challenges – starting with what diagnoses they may have, and what behaviors and emotions they may express. And if we look at the mental health of the world today in general, people themselves are tired."

"Families' preparedness [to foster a child] must be well-considered, and families must assess their situation, whether they can accept [a placement] – whether they have the resources," said Kaja Rattas, head of the Substitute Care Unit at the Social Insurance Board's (SKA) Children's Welfare Department. "It takes a lot of thinking, and it's going to take time to reach that decision."

While support services provided to foster families were previously project-based and dependent on EU grants, going forward, they will be paid for from public funds instead.

"Beginning next year, from 2025, it should also reach legal regulation, ensuring that support for families is sustained, state-financed and versatile," Rattas confirmed.

According to Snaith, the situation has improved significantly in recent years, and the state is able to provide foster families with support, however there remains a lack of help and support services specifically for the children – and qualified specialists as well.

She emphasized that it is important that this support isn't limited to no more than a couple of years, but is lasting.

"That sustained support and the understanding that not everything in these children's upbringing is going to turn out great within a year – this is just going to take time," the nonprofit chief said.

Still, why is it the case that each year so many children need to be placed in foster care?

"The reasons why vary considerably," Rattas said. "It could be that a parent is sick and not getting better, that a parent's parenting skills are lacking; it could be the use of addictive substances."

Poor parenting skills is essentially the most prevalent reason, the SIB reiterated.

Last year, more than half of children in Estonia who were placed in foster homes previously lived in either a children's shelter or substitute home, while five were placed directly after birth and another five went into foster care from their previous home.

Four children went back to their natural families as well last year, one of whom ultimately had to be placed once again in alternative care.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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