Even as India is gradually opening its gates to foster care and has only recently laid down guidelines for group foster care, British actor Jason Isaacs has already started visiting the few foster families and children homes to understand how India fares when it comes to safeguarding children’s interests.
In Mumbai for the shoot of his latest film, Mumbai Hotel, that is based on the 26/11 terror attacks, Isaacs — popular for his role as Lucius Malfoy in the film-series Harry Potter — is taking out time to understand laws that govern family-based care of children in the country.
Cupped in his arms is 10-month-old toddler Anjali at a foster family’s home in Vile Parle. He crawls after her on the floor, playing with a stuffed toy and the orphan smiles back. She is one of the two dozen children put under foster care in Mumbai.
With only two institutions-Family Service Center (FSC) and Indian Association for Promotion of Adoption and Child Welfare-there are handful families willing to step in for foster care for pre-adoptive children in the city.
“I’m passionate about children’s rights and protection. Trying to find a way to give them the childhood they deserve,”
Isaacs says, adding that he has an opportunity to “shine light on a cause” that goes beyond politics. Attached with author JK Rowling’s charity organisation Lumos in England, he says the rules in the United Kingdom are systematic.
“There are more home-based foster groups than orphanages there. In India, I see that is yet to happen, but also the magnitude of problem is much larger,” he adds.
The 53-year-old wants his children, aged 14 and 11, to see the existing condition in which orphans live. He plans to visit another group foster home in Delhi before he sets off for a vacation with his family in Kerala.
In India, the concept of foster care-where a child is kept with a family until he is adopted or looked after until he turns 18-has existed since 1971 when Mumbai-based FSC started it.
However, rules for ‘group foster care’ only came in last year with Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.
According to model guidelines, a family can look after maximum eight kids at their home until they get adopted. “The aim is to keep institutional care as last resort. Currently, that is the first option everywhere in India. A child will grow better in a home where he gets to participate in festivals and know what it is like to be with a family,” said Ian Anand Forber Pratt, national program director at the Center of Excellence in Alternative Care for India, an organisation that works for foster care.
The idea of foster care is “exploding”, he says but requires Child Welfare Committee’s active participation in every state. In Mumbai, however, there is no family participating in group foster care.
According to Isaacs, statistics on child trafficking are “horrifying”. “The most important priority for any child in need or at risk of abandonment is to find them a loving environment in which they’ll get the support that allows them to flourish. It’s better not just for the child but for society,” he says as he plays with Anjali adding that statistical based evidence from decades of research shows that children brought up in institutions suffer from lifelong physical and emotional harm.