Poverty and migration in the last ten years has considerably weakened the institution of the family in Moldova. People were not in a position to protect their children, nor did the state have the means necessary to intervene effectively in support of the family and to prevent children's separation from their family environment.
In these conditions, residential institutions have become the most requested child protection service for vulnerable families or for those children who have been left without parental care. Such institutions are a tradition leftover from the soviet era when most of the orphanage boarding schools and children's placement homes were built in Moldova. Excessive trust in residential institutions lead to the unjustified separation of children from their families. In 2007 in Moldova, 11 500 children were living in residential institutions. Of that number, 9000 (approx. 80%) had one or both parents still living.
In 2006, the government of the Republic of Moldova launched a reform of the children's residential care system. The authorities proposed to reduce by half the number of children living in residential institutions by the year 2012. That means that a better solution will be found for approximately 6000 children in orphanages and children's placement homes: they will go home to their parents, or live with relatives, in foster homes, or benefit from professional parental assistance.
What UNICEF is doing
UNICEF Moldova is supporting the government in its reforms. In the first year of reforms, with financial support from the European Union, UNICEF outlined an ambitious project. Then, a team of professionals, together with national and local authorities, launched the reforms in six pilot districts: Falesti, Floresti, Hincesti, Straseni, Telenesti, and the city of Balti. The results for 2006-2007 in these regions were considerable:
· New admittances to orphanages were reduced by 71%
· The number of children living in these orphanages was reduced by 26%
· The first orphanage in Moldova, the orphanage in Carpinieni in the district of Hincesti, was transformed into a day centre where the 50 children are driven home each night to their families
Once launched in certain regions of the country, the reforms have had an impact on the entire country. In 2006-2007, many laws were changed, creating a new political atmosphere which is helping develop social services for vulnerable families and children at risk. Thanks to these reforms, thousands of children have returned or stayed at home, and others have found new families.
A family for every child
To support reform, the information campaign “A family for every child” was launched. Through television and radio spots, broadcasts and articles, posters and brochures, and as well as through social workers, both leaders of opinion and simple people learned about the advantages of raising a child in a family and about the social services that can benefit vulnerable people. Other communication activities were aimed at decision factors at the national and local levels, at professionals, and at the personnel of the residential institutions. One of the partners in the campaign was the Orthodox Church which announced year 2008 to be the Year of the Family and the Child.
Also in 2008, UNICEF was a faithful partner to the authorities. Since that time, the reforms have been extended to five other districts. Likewise, UNICEF supported the government in preventing the abandonment of newborns and of small children. Although it is less common, abandoning small children has consequences that are considerably more serious to the development of the child. In two years, 2007-2008, professionals from all maternal and paediatric services, as well as representatives from the local public authorities and residential institutions that care for small children were instructed how to intervene, to help families and mothers so as to not separate the children from the family. At the same time, public opinion was informed through a series of informational materials of the effects of abandoning little ones and they learned who to address for help.
Result of the reforms in 2006-2008:
· Currently 8813 children live in residential institutions, almost 3000 less than at the start of the reforms.
· In 18 districts, commissions for the protection of children in difficult situations examine the case of every child who is proposed for placement in an orphanage. The commissions try to find an alternative to institutionalization. Until now, only three districts had such a commission.
· The number of foster homes has risen from 23 to 66. They care for 297 children.
The government has decided to continue the reforms. Actions include replication throughout the country of the best practices that have been accumulated. Thanks to impressive results from the first years of reform, Moldova will, in 2009, host a transnational event. With the support of UNICEF, many countries from the region – Armenia, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia – will come together in Chisinau to discuss lessons learned regarding the reforms and to establish new priorities.