A new chance for a happy childhood
BELGRADE/VALJEVO, December 2011 - Andjela was diagnosed with Down syndrome when she was born five years ago. Her mother abandoned her while she was still in the maternity ward. After her first month of life there, Andjela was sent to the Centre for Protection of Newborn, Small Children and Youth in Belgrade, where she spent almost two years before a foster family was found for her.
She has been living with her foster parents in the city of Valjevo, some 70 km south-west of the capital Belgrade, for three and a half years now. Her foster mother, Ms. Dragana Maksimovic, does not hide tears of happiness while holding Andjela in her arms.
“We were delighted to bring Andjela from the Centre to our home. She adapted to us quickly, just as we adapted to her”, says Dragana Maksimovic.
In order to be able to take care of Andjela, the Maksimovic completed a training program for foster parents in the Centre for Family Placement of Children and Youth in Belgrade, which has become mandatory for all foster families. The Centre is a specialized social care institution, aimed at providing support to foster families and children.
“Foster carers who have gone through our new training programmes have become our equal partners”, says Ms. Dobrila Grujic, Head of the Centre for Family Placement of Children and Youth in Belgrade. “They are skilled people willing to care for children without parental care, which is a significant step towards improved child protection.”
The Maksimovic family has learnt much through these training sessions. Now they want to obtain even more skills and knowledge about children with Down syndrome from other foster families in their town. They are trying to give Andjela the same love and care as they give their own two grandchildren, who also live with them.
“We don’t separate her from our other children, from our grandchildren. She is the same as they are. She has the same needs as my grandchildren, she likes to play, go for a walk, to dress nicely, swim in swimming pool,” says Ms. Maksimovic.
Andjela’s progress in her foster family shows how important living in a family environment is to the successful development of a child with disabilities. She regularly visits the Development Advisory Centre at the town’s Health Centre, and is fully covered by social welfare and healthcare services.
Foster care has become an important form of alternative support to children with disabilities in Serbia thanks to the “Transforming Residential Institutions for Children and Developing Sustainable Alternatives” initiative, implemented by UNICEF in partnership with the Serbian Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, and financially supported by the European Union. A positive trend is especially noticeable when it comes to small children. The number of children aged 0 to 3 in foster families is now five times higher than the number of children in residential institutions.
With the adoption of a new law on Social Welfare in April this year, institutional placement of children under 3 years of age is no longer allowed. Newborns with disability, unlike Andjela at the very beginning of her life, are taken directly from the maternity wards to their foster families. ..
by Aleksandra Krstic for UNICEF