SOS Children have traditionally employed SOS mothers to care for families, in houses located in purpose-built SOS Children’s Villages. As part of this new project, each family has both an SOS father as well as a mother, and the families are integrated into their neighbourhood.
Ibrahim and Zukhumar are an SOS couple, who take care of six children. Ibrahim is a former policeman and says that he chose to become an SOS father because of his aspiration to provide a better future for children who have no one else to care for them. ”You have to help children,” he says. His wife Zukhumar believes that Ibrahim is a good parent. She says: “Last winter it was really cold here, and we were worried if the children slept warm, so I went to see them five times during the night, but Ibrahim checked if they were okay for 10 times!”
Couples must meet the same admission criteria as SOS mothers, to ensure that they are both able and willing to provide high quality childcare. Both parents are given comprehensive training, and the couple’s relationship is assessed in order to determine whether they are able to provide a safe, caring and long-term home.
Matluba Umurzakova, National Program Development Director in Uzbekistan, says that the SOS couples fit in better into communities in Uzbekistan, due to negative perceptions of single mothers. She says: “The first question from the people has always been - where is the father? It's not so easy to be a single mother in Uzbekistan; it's easier to explain the idea of SOS couples.”
The families live in houses in the city rather than in a traditional SOS Children’s Village, and their integration into their communities has also worked well. At first there were some difficulties which needed to be resolved, for instance, whether the couples would make their neighbours aware that they were SOS families moving in. However, they decided not to, as they were keen to be treated like ordinary families. Zukhra Babayanova, SOS Children Programme Leader in Urgench, says: “It’s a regular family that simply starts living there. I think this approach helped in being accepted by the community and the children found new friends quickly.”
Evaluating the project one year on, it clearly can be considered a success. 24 children have benefited from the programme so far. Matluba says: “We already see the results - children adapt more easily to a family that has both parents. After six months children cannot be recognised; they are happy, there's no question about it.”
Over the last few years, some married couples have taken on the responsibility of SOS families. We currently have SOS couples caring for families in eight countries.
SOS Children recognise that married couples can be a suitable alternative to single mothers, as they may be able to provide long-term, quality care for children. We are constantly evaluating our services and adapting to worldwide cultural and economic changes. In the future, part of this evaluation will be to ask whether SOS couples will, in time, be appropriate for even more SOS Villages around the world.