In China, the most pressing child welfare issue is arguably no longer how to care for children without families — but what to do about children experiencing abuse and neglect within their families. As child welfare officials in China work to address this problem, Holt is providing guidance and support — advocating for systemic change that will ultimately affect hundreds of thousands of children.
by Robin Munro, Managing Editor
A few weeks ago, we shared the story of a little girl in China who we called “Hong.” Alongside the story we posted a picture of Hong, chubby-cheeked and smiling, her shiny black hair swept across her forehead. The story was about foster care — how in her foster mother’s care, Hong overcame a bad skin infection that caused her face to become red and swollen. Her foster mother took her to the doctor and ensured she received the medicine she needed. She mothered Hong back to health, with nourishing food and attentive, loving care. Praised for her devoted care, Hong’s foster mother brushed it off. “It’s nothing to be a show-off about,” she said. “I just do what a mom would do for her child.”
Twenty years ago, foster care was an alien concept in China. If their parents died or were unable to support them, children would customarily be taken in by relatives. For children who truly had nowhere else to go, China provided housing and care through an extensive network of social welfare institutes spread out across the country. These orphanages provided a last resort for orphaned and abandoned children, and before the 1990s, few children came into care.
Then, in the late 1980s, China instituted a one-child-per-family policy — resulting in one very unfortunate and unintended outcome. Facing extreme consequences if they failed to comply, parents began to abandon their children, primarily those who would not in time be able to support the family.
By the time Holt began working in China — in the early 1990s — China’s social welfare institutes were in a state of crisis. With children coming in at a rate of sometimes five per day — most of them infant girls — caregivers became overwhelmed. To properly care for the growing number of children in care, China’s orphanages needed a solution more immediate than adoption.
By this late date, Holt had already developed an alternative model of care for children — a model that would give children the attentive, nurturing care that, despite their best efforts, orphanage caregivers simply don’t have the time or resources to provide. In South Korea, India, Thailand, the Philippines and other countries, Holt had already introduced this model with great success. After some convincing, the Chinese government began partnering with Holt to develop foster care for the country’s orphaned and abandoned children. Today, thousands of children in China live with foster families while they wait to join permanent adoptive families in China or overseas. Thousands of children are being nurtured back to health, achieving critical developmental milestones, and thriving in their foster parents’ care.
While moving, the story of little Hong is also very common in China today.