Hired ‘mums’ lend helping hand to China’s ‘left-behind children’

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Children from a community in Fenggang County, Guizhou Province, celebrated this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival together at a local children’s home. But it was not a normal celebration with families coming together to enjoy the festivities: the children’s parents were not present. Instead, the adults present were staff from China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA)’s “Mums Accompanying Children” program.

Initially launched in 2015, the program has so far held events and activities in seven provinces, covering 919 villages across 79 counties and supporting more than 525,000 children whose parents work in cities far away. In China, they’re often known as “left-behind children”.

In Fenggang County, the program hired women from local villages with a high school diploma. Different levels of training are offered to staff based on their experience and skills, including visiting a family with left-behind children, communicating with children, organizing activities, giving feedback, designing programs and taking responsibility for individual cases.

In addition to training members of staff at each program location, CFPA will also establish a children’s home at each site with at least 20 square meters of indoor space and 80 square meters of outdoor space. Currently, there are 20 such homes at locations in Fenggang County. Each of the homes is open for at least 16 hours per week, rising to 32 hours during the summer and winter breaks.

Each month, the staff “mums” get together to report progress, give feedback on their work at each location and discuss problems they have encountered over the past month. In general, when problems arise staff will ask for help from each county’s social affairs office. However, when the office can’t offer assistance, they will report their issue to CFPA and get support from the foundation.

Funding for the program comes from different sources. CFPA gives each program location 50,000 yuan ($7,748) for paying wages, building new facilities, holding events, paying for technical support, offering staff training, supervising programs and monitoring. Local or provincial departments of civil affairs and village committees provide funding to cover the facilities at children’s homes, as well as providing money for bills. Meanwhile, since 2018, Mums Accompanying Children has become a charitable program supported by Alibaba. As of July this year, the program had received 130 million yuan in funds, including 23.46 million yuan from local governments.

Staff from the program have noticed the difference they have made over the past six years. When the program was first launched, they often encountered resistance from local families.

“The parents thought we were thieves,” said Ou Lanlan, one of the program staff. Children were also reluctant to meet them and sometimes would lock themselves in their rooms. But as time went by, they began to open up and share their stories with the staff, as well taking part in the activities at the children’s homes.

The staff also helped children who have had little communication with their biological parents to improve their relationships. One 11-year-old boy who lost his father in an accident became obsessed with using his cell phone and had little communication with his mother, who worked in another city. Wang Qinmei, one of the program’s “mums”, made a sustained effort to communicate with the boy, as well as his family and teachers. Her efforts paid off and his attitude started to change.

“He has become closer to his family and now treats me as a friend. He will also share things with me that he doesn’t want to talk to his family about,” Wang said.