The pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works of Gujarat’s novel that aims to find a loving home for young orphans and entrust couples with their education and well-being. Fostering, a temporary commitment, is different from adoption which is permanent and involves legal process. Since mid-2019, about 147 in the custody of Child Care Institutions (CCIs) have been fostered in Gujarat. However, only four of these children have been taken up by , while the remaining 143 are being group-fostered by the NGOs. Officials say the disruption caused by the Covid pandemic is largely to blame for the dismal figures, and efforts are underway by way of wide publicity to get more parents to join in and help children in need. These children are mostly teens well past the when they could be adopted. Prospective foster parents usually prefer to adopt children below 2 years of age. Those who are unable to find foster parents before the age of 7 – when chances of adoption decrease significantly – face the prospect of remaining with the CCIs. A new programme introduced recently, inspired by a similar one run in Romania, intends to gives the older children another chance at family. The idea is to provide a more conducive environment for children to live, learn and grow. While the programme began in Gujarat in 2019, its implementation throughout 2020 was dented by the Covid pandemic. That is the reason, till date, only four children — two in Vadodara and one each in Godhra (Panchmahals) and Surat — have been fostered by couples while the remaining 143 have been sent to group foster homes in Bhavnagar, Kutch and One such foster parent couple are the Sapkal family from Vadodara. Sandhya Sapkal is a 43-year-old Child Probation Officer, who already has two children of her own. She is fostering a 14-yearold boy, the very first child taken under foster care under this programme in Gujarat. For her, the decision was out and out a matter of compassion and sense of responsibility. She and her husband have fostered the boy for two years now, with the second year completing on June 14, 2021. The couple proudly said their ‘third son’ will give his Class 10 board exams next month. “When I was counselling children about foster care, one particular child used to always remain quiet and reserved. He had got lost in childhood and came to Deepak Foundation CCI. When I asked him whether he would like to live with a family, he asked me: ‘If any family can foster me, can’t it be you?’ At that moment I knew I wanted this child… I wanted to be his mother,” said Sandhya Sapkal. Her husband Pradeep and two children, aged 24 and 21, agreed almost immediately. They put in an application with the Vadodara District Child Protection Officer (DCPO) and welcomed him home in June 2019. Rohan (name changed) has a talent for computing. He told Mirror, “I am learning coding from Papa and my elder brother. I have a keen interest in it and hope to join Google one day.” The Sapkal couple have been given an extension to keep Rohan in their care till he turns 18. The Foster Care programme, implemented by the department of social justice and empowerment, is one of four programmes that attempts to make sure that children who have nobody to call their own do get a chance to live in the love and care of a family, albeit temporarily. Children who have not been adopted till they turn 7 are registered under this programme. Heterogeneous married couples are invited to foster them in their families -- for three months to begin with and extended after assessing the experiences of the couples and the child in question. Couples get Rs 3,000 and the child gets another Rs 3,000 every month as the state’s contribution towards expenses. This programme has been adopted from a similar one being run in Romania. Talking to Mirror, District Child Protection Officer (DCPO) for Vadodara, Amit Vasava, said, “We carry out counselling and urge couples waiting for adoption to take a child under foster care. These children need help to integrate with society and get exposure to the outside world, which is almost non-existent in the CCIs.” While the children may be in foster care, there is also a very real fear that they may be exploited or abused. Manoj Aggarwal, additional chief secretary of the social justice and empowerment department (SJ&E) said, “After an application is received for fostering a child, officials from the visit the family, discuss the couple about their choice and make sure they have the financial means and the physical space to provide for a child in their home. Officials visit them every month and check if the child is safe and happy.” Phone number of the District Child Protection Unit (DCPU) in Ahmedabad -- 079-26587740. Prospective couples looking to foster children can also send in an application to: 203, Hare Krishna Complex, Opp. Kothavala Flat, Pritamnagar, Paldi, Ahmedabad.