|© UNICEF Ukraine/2007/Degan|
|Siblings Shura (left) and Marka, previously separated, now have a chance to grow up together as a result of efforts by UNICEF and partners in Ukraine.|
By Guy Degen
KHMELNYTSKY, Ukraine, 9 November 2007 – Until recently, Makar, 8, and his sister Shura, 7, were growing up apart, abandoned by their parents into Ukraine’s state child-care facilities. But under a new programme to re-unite siblings in state care, the brother and sister are living together once again at the Khmelnytsky Pre-School Children’s Home in western Ukraine.
Of the 9 million children in Ukraine, more than 65,000 live in state-run institutions. Poverty, unemployment, alcoholism and drug abuse are leading reasons why parents here abandon their children – many of whom arrive at the facilities without any documents at all.
UNICEF is providing technical assistance to the Ukrainian authorities to help keep siblings such as Shura and Makar together. New methods of assessment and rigorous investigation of case histories are helping to emphasize the individual needs of children.
“When Shura and Makar were in different groups, and met sometimes in outdoor activities, they didn't feel anything special about each other and did not communicate as brother and sister. Now when they are together, Makar is taking care of Shura, just like his younger sister,” said the Deputy Director of the Khmelnytsky home, Nadiya Romanyshyn.
|© UNICEF Ukraine/2007/Degan|
|Sergiy and Magda are part of a new wave of family-based child care in Ukraine, having become the foster parents of Sasha, 8.|
Alternatives to state care
Meanwhile, a new wave of family-centred care for orphaned and abandoned children in Ukraine is offering alternatives to state care. Schoolteachers Sergiy and Magda are part of that trend, having completed a course for foster parents and welcomed Sasha, an eight-year-old orphan, into their family.
With the help of his new brothers – the couple’s other three sons – Sasha has become part of the family and is experiencing a life he never knew outside a child-care facility. Among other everyday activities, he helps with trips to the supermarket and household chores.
But the family is not quite complete, say Sergiy and Magda. They hope UNICEF and the state authorities will eventually be able to locate Sasha’s sister so that she, too, can come to live with them.
A supportive environment
“Living in a family is one of the child’s fundamental rights. UNICEF is trying to help the government to create clear roadmaps and strategies on how to develop family care for children deprived of parental care," said UNICEF Ukraine Child Protection Officer Andriy Haidamashko.
State funds are also available to support foster parents willing to look after several children – including groups of siblings.
Re-uniting children with their biological parents remains the best outcome for children, but where this is not possible, a supportive family environment provides a much better quality of life than an institutional setting does. Within a family, abandoned children can become socially integrated, gain the protection to which they are entitled and find a path for their lifelong well-being and development.