STEP believes that children belong in families and not in institutional care. Since 2007 we have been striving to realise this hope through first advocating for foster care, and then by working alongside local government to see that system established in the Kurdish Region. STEP has worked with local staff, providing training and developing processes to help build a Foster Care unit, and help it to run operate effectively. Crucially, STEP has facilitated the support needed for the foster families to be able to provide family-based care for these children.
Like many places in the Middle East there is no formal Foster Care system in place in Kurdistan. Unfortunately, unwanted abandoned children are placed in institutional care, and families that do want to provide homes for these children have had no official access to those placed there.
While STEP believes that children belong in families and not in institutional care, it was recognised that there was little capacity within the formal institutions to move towards establishing a foster care system.
In 2007 we began to advocate for a foster care system to be established in the Kurdish Region. In 2010-12 we were formally invited to join with the Kurdish Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs to be part of a working group looking at how to make this a reality.
In 2015, STEP signed a memorandum of understanding with the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs to pilot foster care in our location. Following this, the Ministry established a Foster Family Unit and appointed government employed social workers and administration staff.
Since then, STEP has worked with the Unit to provide training and develop all the processes needed for the successful placement of children with Foster families.
Abandoned and unwanted children are now with families that want them. This pilot project has proved that it is possible to place children in families, and that these new formal mechanisms provide the support needed for these families and children.
This means that in 2021 STEP, along with its partners in local government and other supporters, can begin to look at how to roll this out more widely across Kurdistan. The potential impact of this project is humbling, and we are extremely grateful to those that have stood with us as we work towards a safer and fuller future for these young people.
We are working towards making sure that the foster care system will self-sustaining and widespread across Kurdistan. The hope is that no abandoned child will need to be placed in institutional care, rather that they can grow up in the arms of a loving and supportive family. The potential for these children will be radically changed, as parents, uncles, aunts and other committed family members help them through life – education, jobs, finding partners and ultimately becoming productive members of society.
To achieve this, there is a lot of hard work ahead of us.
The Drop-In Centre provides a safe space for children. It was started in 2002 specifically to meet the needs of working boys who had nowhere to rest in the market.
STEP has provided Child Protection Services through the Child Friendly Space inside the Arbat Refugee camp since 2013.