Institutionalized children return home to family life in Georgia
By Maya Kurtsikidze
TIANETI, Georgia, 19 April 2007 – Child welfare reform in Georgia could soon achieve a 40 per cent reduction in the number of institutionalized children around the country.
A UNICEF-supported government programme has so far seen over 1,600 children returned from institutions to live with families. More than 300 were placed in foster care and more than 500 returned to family life; the programme has also prevented the institutionalization of over 760 additional children.
“I am happy now to be with my mother. I can trust her as my closest friend,” said Mariam Mamadashvili, 16, who returned to her mother’s house a year ago after a five-year stay at the Tianeti Institution.
Assistance to families
Tianeti is a small, isolated town in the mountains, a two-hour drive from the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Poverty and high unemployment here have forced many people to move to other parts of Georgia or even abroad to earn a living.
When Mariam was a year old, her family left for Russia in search of work. But in 2000 Mariam’s father left the family. Her mother, Gulo, was forced to return to Georgia. She had neither a job nor anybody in Tianeti to help her. She could not provide her daughter with a basic home or food, and she felt her only option was to place Mariam in the institution.
In 2006, as part of the UNICEF-supported state programme on deinstitutionalization, the Ministry of Education and Science provided financial assistance to Mariam’s family so she could return home.
“It is a terrible feeling when your child is not with you at night and when you want to see her,” said Gulo. “I am so happy that we are together now. I can think about Mariam’s education. I could not even buy a pen for my daughter before.”
An institution transformed
These days, Mariam attends a regular school and returns to the reformed Tianeti Institution, which is now a day care centre, to do her homework and extra studies.
The new centre offers formerly institutionalized children a better chance to learn and develop. In addition to the academic course, there are various amateur groups devoted to music, singing and painting.
The government’s transformation of the Tianeti Institution was supported by UNICEF and the British non-governmental organization Every Child. Together they selected and renovated a suitable building to house the day care centre, and provided technical equipment and training for staff and members of the community, including foster parents.
More child care centres planned
“The children have changed dramatically,” said Tianeti Day Care Centre Coordinator Lela Kitesashvili.
“When the centre was set up, many children had difficulty speaking and interacting with others,” she recalled. “They did not even have the discipline to read a book. Now they have learned about human relationships and do not have any problems interacting with each other or with other members of the community. They have also improved their learning skills.”
Since 1999, UNICEF has been assisting the Government of Georgia in developing policies to prevent the institutionalization of children, while promoting alternative, family-based child care practices. In 2005, the government declared deinstitutionalization a policy priority.
UNICEF is assisting the government with plans to set up more child care centres – similar to the one in Tianeti – in the cities of Rustavi and Akhmeta in the near future.