Safeguarding foster care heritage in the merciful city of Geel: a community-based care model
Selected in 2023 on the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices
The Belgian town of Geel is known for its tradition of hosting people with mental disorders in the homes of foster families. A form of psychiatric care, the community-based practice encourages the social participation of mentally-vulnerable people while destigmatizing mental illness. Over time, the practice has evolved into a scientifically and medically supported programme, with laws and decrees defining the conditions, responsibilities and rights of foster families, guests and the Public Psychiatric Care Centre. Despite its resilience, this tradition is challenged by changes in modern society and mental health care. To respond to these challenges, local organizations and councils work together on a multi-layered safeguarding programme aimed at: (a) transmitting the practice and its history; (b) researching the model from historical, medical and anthropological perspectives; and (c) cultivating a caring ecosystem. The programme highlights the complementarity of diverse health care approaches by nurturing a warm-hearted ecosystem where cultural and health care practices and medical institutions merge. It is an inexpensive model that leverages existing community assets and generates strong health outcomes for the mentally ill. It is a cost-effective mental health service which ensures healthy lives and promotes well-being for all at all ages.