Milosevac, a Village Full of Family Warmth
Foster Care in Serbia
While hundreds of children live without parental care in homes around Serbia, a small village in the Donje Pomoravlje region has fostered over 5,000 children who have been denied the possibility of living in their birth families. Almost all the families in Milosevac, a village north of the capital Belgrade, have been practising the art of fostering and passing it down from one generation to the next, without any breaks, for 77 years. Milesa and Mile have four biological children, a granddaughter and two boys from Sopot who moved to their home four years ago.
“My parents have been fostering all their lives, and although, biologically speaking, I am an only child, I have many brothers and sisters,” Milesa explains. One of her sisters, Dragana, who is also a mother of four, is over for a visit. She lived with Milesa’s parents from the age of three, before moving to a student campus. “But I would spend weekends and vacations in Milosevac, since that is the only home I know.” Milesa and other foster-parents have gone through difficult partings with children who were adopted or who returned to their birth families, but, as she says, the ties never break.
The family placement centre in Milosevac currently provides placement for 215 children with 118 families. Depending on the circumstances of their arrival in Milosevac, some go back to their parents even before they come of age, some get adopted, and others become independent after finishing their education. Centre Director Vojislav Pavlovic, once himself a ward of that institution, says that, after completing their education, many return to their foster families and the areas where they grew up.
As part of the support for enhancing the child protection system, UNICEF, in cooperation with the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, and with the financial support of the European Union, is implementing a project entitled “Transforming Residential Institutions for Children and the Developing Sustainable Alternatives”. The project’s motto, “A Child’s place is within the family”, clearly reflects its goals. Milosevac aside, 4,200 more children are placed with 3,300 foster families throughout the rest of Serbia. UNICEF’s project, through a number of carefully planned activities, provides support for this positive trend. Activities are geared towards the creation of conditions for reducing the number of children placed in institutions, while, at the same time, improving the quality of protection and channelling it towards supporting social integration.
“Each child has the right to grow up in a family environment. It is no coincidence that this right is stressed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” says Judita Reichenberg, UNICEF Area Representative in Serbia. “A child without parental care has not lost the right to grow up in a family environment. On the contrary, it is an obligation of the state to assist a family in providing for that child.”
Research has shown that children placed in institutions shows signs at a very early age of retarded development and, frequently, signs of neurological disorders owing to an absence or lack of emotional or intellectual stimulation. An institution, even the best equipped, is not a natural environment.
“When it is deemed to be in the child’s best interest to be removed from his or her natural family, a foster family represents the best possible environment for the child,” Judita Reichenberg explains.
Aaround thirty children with disabilities in Milosevac attend lessons from the first to eighth grade in classes for children with disabilities at “Radomir Lukic” Primary School. Andrijana, a former ward of the Centre in Milosevac, has two biological children of her own and fosters two others, both children with disabilities. The parents visit these children and wait for better days to return, to take their children back home. “Before them, I used to have a boy and a girl who went for adoption in Sweden,” Andrijana says.
In Serbia today, there are 12 institutions and one centre for children without parental care (with 5 institutional units), three educational institutes for children and youth, and five institutions for children and youth with disabilities. UNICEF’s project is particularly aimed at developing foster care for children with disabilities as an alternative form of protection. Judita Reichenberg says that, although Serbia has a long tradition in fostering, the progress in finding placements for children with disabilities is rather slow.
“There are still around 1,100 children in specialised institutions. Generally speaking, we have a good trend, but there is still work to be done.”
A very important goal stands before UNICEF, the republic and local authorities, not to mention all responsible citizens, which needs to be accomplished as soon as possible: rendering the child protection system fully operational and effective. Particularly for the most vulnerable group of our youngest fellow citizens.
by Dragana Peric for UNICEF