The state women and child development department (WCD) convened an hour-long meeting on Monday with the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) and NGO Family Service Centre (FSC) officials in connection to the custody case of a two-year-old toddler in foster care.
The boy is in the middle of a custody battle between his 30-year-old biological mother, who underwent treatment for schizophrenia in Mumbai, and a Bollywood director-writer who has been fostering the child since May.
Officials who were part of the meeting said that the WCD department has instructed the CWC to follow protocol and allow rehabilitation of the child as per the Juvenile Justice Act at the earliest. A formal decision on the custody of the child is likely to be made later this week.
In a meeting on December 1, the foster parents had asked the CWC to allow the baby to continue to remain under their care, as the mother was not mentally sound to look after the child. The CWC had then directed that the boy be shifted from the foster family to a government-run shelter home.
The decision was, however, reversed by an order issued late in the night. The child was handed back to the foster parents around 3.30 am on December 2.
The department has questioned the CWC on how the foster parents were allowed to keep the child when directions were given to send him to a shelter home.
“This has never happened before that a child has been taken back from a shelter home to foster caregivers in the middle of the night. The CWC said it reversed the decision because the child may be unsafe at the shelter home amid the pandemic. In the meeting today, the CWC said it will work within purview of law and take further steps,” said Prema Gadge, deputy WCD officer in Mumbai city.
The CWC is now awaiting fresh medical fitness certificate of the mother from a government hospital to assess her mental condition before the child is handed over. “We have already coordinated with the CWC in Bihar, where the woman’s father lives, to monitor the child after he is shifted there. We just need the fitness certificate of the mother now,” a CWC member said.
The mother, a native of Bihar, had wandered away in 2019 with her newborn from Kanpur, where she lived with her husband, and reached Mumbai.
Unknown to her, then, she suffered from schizophrenia. Her illness was diagnosed last September after the Borivali government railway police (GRP) found her living on street with her badly bruised child. The boy had bite marks and wounds all over his body.
The GRP, suspecting the mother had hit the child, had referred the baby to the CWC, which sent him to foster care through FSC.
The mother, meanwhile, underwent treatment for schizophrenia from September 2019 to January 2020 at Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation, an NGO for mental illness treatment. By last November, she had managed to remember her father’s address at Bhojpur in Bihar.
She received a fitness certificate from Shraddha foundation in January and met her son on January 21. Since then she has been trying to get his custody.
“She can remain stable if she continues her medication. We have assured the CWC that we will provide her with free medicines and also refer her to a local psychiatrist in Bihar,” said Dr Bharat Vatwani, founder of Shraddha foundation.
CWC officials said since the fitness certificate is 10 months old, a new one has been sought.
On November 4, the FSC had written to the woman’s father to come and take the child. The biological father was also contacted but he had refused to come to Mumbai. Following this, in subsequent meetings at CWC on November 24 and December 1, the NGO, along with the foster parents, requested that the child’s be allowed to continue to stay with them.
The toddler at present remains in care of the foster family. The FSC has assured government officials that the foster family does not intend to adopt him. “We conduct a thorough study of our foster families and homes at the time of selecting them. They are counselled and prepared for all factors involved in this process. Presently, we have eight children in foster care, all in different homes and doing very well,” FSC Director Nirmala Fernandes told The Indian Express in an email.
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