Exhausted foster parents quit
After years of seeking respite care for their multi-handicapped foster son, Øssur and Vivian Jacobsen have had enough.
They are the foster parents of a 12-year-old boy, who suffers from numerous disorders, including autism and ADHD.
It is proving impossible for them to get a weekend or a holiday to themselves, and now they want to quit as foster parents.
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“We are drained of energy and mental resources,” says Øssur.
“This is a tragic situation. This is his home, and we feel a parental responsibility toward him. But we just cannot continue like this when the social services do nothing to give us some breathing space.”
The boy has been offered some respite care in the past, but these services have since been taken away for reasons such as staff shortage.
A comprehensive report from 2021 recommended that the boy should receive respite care for ten weekends a year plus holidays.
However, Øssur and Vivian have not been offered this support, despite having applied several times and watching on as other parents in similar situations received respite care for their children.
“The big loser in this system is this fantastic 12-year-old boy. Living with us is what he associates with a safe and loving home,” says Øssur.
Shortage of foster parents
He adds that it is not surprising that there is a big shortage of foster parents in the Faroes given the treatment he and Vivian have received from the social services.
”The boy will now most likely end up in some institution. This is something we now need to prepare him for,” he says.
“Deep down, we always knew that he would go to an institution. I just really wish there could have been a smooth transition rather than this sudden shift that he will experience now.”
A much costlier alternative
Anna Dam, a lawyer at child welfare agency Barnaverndarstova Føroya, finds it difficult to see why Øssur and Vivian should not be offered respite care for their boy.
“The alternative solution is far from ideal – both from a human and an economic perspective,” she says.
The government pays foster parents about DKK 300,000 per year, whereas sending a child to an institution costs about DKK 2 million per year.
“I think many of us will agree that this makes very little sense. You should talk to Almannaverkið (the Department of Social Services).”
Long waiting list
Edvard Heen, who heads Almannaverkið, says there is a backlog of 62 applications for this type of respite care and that Almannaverkið is doing everything they can to shorten this waiting list.
“Almannaverkið needs to work within the existing political and legal framework. We have repeatedly requested structural changes that would increase our capacity in this field,” he says.
“A key challenge here is that the administration of child welfare services is stuck in an unfortunate grey zone between central and local government.”
A bureaucratic jungle
Essentially, the problem in this case is that the foster parent system is administered by the municipalities, while some of the 12-year-old-boy’s challenges fall within the sphere of Almannaverkið.
“Almannaverkið would be happy to initiate political talks about breaking down these structural barriers,” says Heen.
“I think we can all agree that the current system is not working. It is obviously better for the child to live with a loving family rather than in an institution. And the added costs of living in an institution just further highlight the flaws of our current system.”
Read the Faroese version of this article here.
Translated by prosa.fo.
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