On Four Continents, Helping Agencies Encourage Foster Care

Deb Sturtevant, Ph.D. | Professor of Social Work

Dr. Deb Sturtevant’s “on the side” takes her quite a distance. Guatemala. China. Romania. Zambia. Since the 1990s, she’s worked on projects with the global arm of Bethany Christian Services. In a six-year effort in Zambia that wrapped up in 2015, she and colleagues evaluated a community-based family support program and networked with a local agency and church to improve children’s well-being and support development of community resources to keep families intact.

When I went to Zambia the first time in 2009, the sub-Saharan HIV rate was huge; we were looking at life, death, survival. The Christian Alliance for Children in Zambia operated a crisis care clinic for kids who were abandoned in ditches, bus stations, etc. They were brought to the clinic by police or local people who found them. We worked with the agency to evaluate its existing program, to propose improvements and to encourage them to develop a local foster care program. We realized extended families — aunties, grandparents — or foster parents would keep children in families and reduce the number of children in orphanages.

In countries where people in dire poverty have been in survival mode, it’s interesting to be in conversations with social workers and church members and encourage them to think differently about what it means to be a family. Orphan care might keep kids alive, but it doesn’t provide all they need to become productive members of society nearly as well as having a family does. Every child deserves a family.