The essence of Geel Foster Family Care

Five basic principles that form the strength of Geel Foster Family Care have remained unchanged throughout history.

Fostermother and boarder spending time together
  • Boarders come into a family that should just be “a family”. There is no such thing as a Foster Family Care Academy: we do not provide our families with training or manuals, nor do we expect them to be therapeutically trained or psychologically literate or skilled in them. The naturalness and normality of the family are still the essence.
  • The family takes in the boarder for a long, indefinite period of time; in practice, often until the end of life. Boarders become full members of the family. They have their own room and a place at the table; the family involves them in social life, allows them to have their own hobbies and interests, but equally expects them to help with household chores and to follow house rules.
  • The Geel tradition remains strong: when foster parents can no longer care for their boarder due to age or health problems, the boarder is often taken in by one of the children. After all, a boarder has become someone who simply belongs to the family. Most candidate foster families today continue a family tradition or know the system from their youth or neighbourhood.
  • In Geel foster family care, there is no focus on illness or on what is nót going well. The focus shifts from cure to care. Family care focuses on what is going well, on qualities. We encourage boarders to stay active and do something with their talents and interests. Where helping out in the field or in the business used to be the norm, we now offer appropriate day care in employment or day activities and a wide range of education and leisure activities.
  • The community provides tolerance and inclusion: people with mental vulnerability are present in everyone’s environment and are simply part of social life. They are accepted just as they are and involved like any other citizen. In this way, they can maintain themselves in an ordinary family and build their own social life.
Child playing on trampoline

Children in care

Children in care is a project that has now been running for more than ten years. Traditional Geel Family Foster Care is aimed at adult psychiatric patients who cannot live independently and for whom a stay in a host family is appropriate. Children in Care Families is for children and minors who have both a mental disability and a psychiatric problem. Their chances of development are better served in a stable family environment. It concerns, for instance, children who are unable to develop in a residential group because of the multitude of stimuli. We expect more from care parents than we expect from traditional foster families. Care parents must subscribe to the pedagogical and therapeutic project we outline for the young person and take on an educational role.

This foster care for minors is already used much more flexibly than foster family care for adults. The young person can stay in the foster home full-time, but it can also be part-time; for example, during the week in the foster home and at weekends with the natural parent(s). One of the crucial success factors is the mandate of the minor’s natural context, a mandate given to the care family by the natural parent(s) to take effective care of their child. The casemanagers handle this carefully and spend much of their counselling time working with the context and keeping the relationship between the child and their own parents as intact as possible. There are about a dozen minors we supervise in this way; a much smaller group than adults in foster family care.

Main building of OPZ Geel

Foster family care today is organised from OPZ Geel, the Public Psychiatric Care Centre Geel. OPZ Geel is an autonomous agency of the Flemish government with a very wide range of psychiatric care. In our multidisciplinary team for foster family care we have psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, a psychologist and therapists. Our workshops, day activity centers and leisure and sports team are also crucial for our boarders.