'Simulated family' gives abandoned, disabled children parental love
At 7am every morning, 56-year-old Jing Fengying and her husband Zhang Youbing wake up their four foster children and spend an hour dressing and feeding them. They need to leave by 8am for classes at a children's welfare institute.
The couple has devoted eight years to looking after abandoned children in their home at Hohhot Children's Welfare Institute in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
In 2009, the institute employed the couple as foster parents for four disabled children.
They live in a three-bedroom house in the institute and are responsible for the day-to-day care of the children until they are either legally adopted or become 18 years old.
The couple received about 1,800 yuan (US$270) for per child from the institute each month, and they have fostered 18 children over the past eight years.
They currently care for Songsong, a four-year-old boy who was born prematurely, and another three disabled children. Their other 14 foster children have found permanent families or been transferred to other social welfare homes when they turned 18.
Before joining the institute, Jing did odd jobs to make money.
"At first I just wanted to have a stable job," she said. "But now I feel good giving these children the love of a family."
In 2009, Hohhot Children's Welfare Institute launched the program called "simulated family" to help the children there receive proper parental care.
There are eight couples living at the institute and each takes care of four disabled or abandoned children. All the couples are between 45 to 55 years old and have completed at least nine years of formal education.
The foster parents live in the institute and in addition to the day-to-day care, they attend training about how to raise a disabled child, while the institute focuses on the children's medical treatment, education, and rehabilitation.
The program aims to have the children enjoy the warmth of a home and family as much as possible, and help them learn to interact with their family members, said Zhang Yan from the Hohhot Children's Welfare Institute.
"Children without proper parental care tend to become withdrawn or violent. That's why we tried this method," said Zhang.
It also aims to help them to adjust to a parent-child relationship and to a normal family life after they are legally adopted.
"With the care of their foster parents, some withdrawn and sensitive children feel the warmth of family life and learn to communicate with others," said Zhang.
Songsong was lucky to be fostered at Jing's home. He has grown from an sick abandoned infant to a healthy young boy, thanks to Jing's long-time care.
"Songsong is very healthy now. Many families will be willing to adopt him," said Jing. "I am happy he will have his own family, but also feel sad to see him leave us soon."
Jing's biological son and daughter, who are both already married and work in Hohhot, often come to see their parents and siblings.
"The love we give them is sincere and true. We are already a family after years together," said Jing.