PETALING JAYA: Poverty, abuse and neglect have forced many families to place their children in institutions as they struggle with the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting economic fallout.

But despite their best efforts, these institutions cannot replace a loving family.

Consequently, OrphanCare Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, has taken up the task of reuniting unplanned babies at risk of abandonment with their birth parents and placing others in the care of a family.

This is to give the child a chance to grow up in a well-rounded family environment with all the care and love needed, according to advocacy and communications manager Riza Alwi.

“We believe that children should not be placed in institutions. Studies have shown that these children tend to grow up with low self-esteem, their (physical and mental) development is delayed, and they have behavioural problems,” she told theSun.

OrphanCare was founded in 2008 by the late Datuk Adnan Mohd Tahir, an activist who fought for the well-being of orphans.

Its work is based on what it calls a de-institutionalisation (DI) programme, under which it arranges for orphans to be adopted and abandoned children to be reintegrated into their birth families.

“This is in line with our tagline ‘Every Child Needs A Family’, which is also our belief,” Riza said.

DI is the process of moving a child away from the care of an institution into an integrated family and community-based environment.

“It is about reintegrating children with their parents, extended family, adoptive or foster parents or placing them in small group homes,” Riza explained. “It’s not about closing down childcare institutions.”

She said this would give children the opportunity to reclaim their identity and express their individuality while growing up in a loving family environment.

“Care is taken to ensure that each child is placed with the right family. The child and family are counselled and given family and community support, and assistance to help them become independent,” she said.

OrphanCare works hand in hand with the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry and the Department of Social Welfare Malaysia (JKM) to realise their mission of placing orphans into loving homes and providing refuge for unwed mothers as well as a safe haven for abandoned babies.

Since 2010, the foundation has saved 441 babies out of which 270 have been adopted.

In another 159 cases, OrphanCare managed to persuade the unwed mothers to care for their babies rather than give the child up for adoption.

The remaining 12 babies are special cases and have been referred back to JKM.

OrphanCare has three baby hatches located in Petaling Jaya, Sungai Petani and Johor Baru.

“We have also partnered with seven KPJ Hospitals in Peninsular Malaysia that have baby hatches. OrphanCare also assists with the legal adoption process and provides counselling for birth mothers, children, potential adoptive parents and reintegrated families,” she said.

In its effort to create awareness and promote advocacy, OrphanCare also actively hosts talks on reproductive health to help reduce the numbers of unplanned pregnancies.

As expected, there are challenges and brickbats. There have been claims that by providing baby hatches, OrphanCare is encouraging mothers to abandon their babies.

However, as far as Riza is concerned, placing a child in the baby hatch is not abandoning him.

“It is a cry for help to save the life of an unplanned baby,” she said.

Apart from its work for children, OrphanCare also counsels unwed mothers, some of whom are not even aware they are expecting a child until a later stage.

“For those who decide to give up their babies for adoption, we help them rebuild their lives with an assurance that their children have been adopted by a loving family which will ensure they have a bright future.”

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