Mrs. Suja Pillai, a 41-year-old foster mother from Pune, India has loved and encouraged 65 children in the last 13 years. Some children have stayed with her for only a few months. Some she has nurtured for several years. She often cares for two children at the same time. One of 26 families currently participating in Bharatiya Samaj Seva Kendra’s (BSSK) foster care program, Suja cannot imagine her life without the children.
BSSK introduced foster care in 1982 as a way to provide loving, temporary care for children. Being a foster mother requires a lot of time, work and love. When foster parents join BSSK’s program, they participate in a 5-day training to learn how to safely and effectively care for children. Foster parents learn a range of skills, including how to bathe children, boil bottles and prepare food. Regularly scheduled foster parent meetings follow the initial training. In addition to providing training and guidance to foster parents, BSSK helps to offset some of the costs involved by providing a small subsidy for each child, plus money for supplies, clothes and transportation to doctor’s appointments.
Although this support helps with the actual cost of supporting each child, the love and affection each foster parent contributes is priceless. Suja smiles when asked why she became a foster mother. “Initially I had financial problems and wanted to work from home. Now, I love it and cannot live without the children!” she says.
Suja is now considered one of the most experienced foster mothers in the program, offering guidance and support to some of the less experienced foster parents. She has the formal title of “Head Foster Mother” in the area, which makes her responsible for coordinating 16 foster homes, organizing the distribution of supplies, performing home visits and arranging local transport for doctor visits.
Holding up the photograph of a smartly dressed little girl, she says: “The hardest part of being a foster mother is being able to let go. One child stayed with me for three years before she was adopted internationally.” There are tears in her eyes as she talks about the child she has not seen in ten years. “I don’t know what her life is like now, but I will always know I had some influence.” She smiles through her tears. “That is what being a foster mother is about.”