To be raised in a family is an undeniable right for every child.

Challenges of Children in Residential Centers

Klodiana Kapo Freelance journalist
Denis Golgota
06 November 2019

There is silence in the room. Only Miri can be heard, seeking for his mother. No one answers. A woman with a white apron comes to his side, but she is not the mother, she is the caregiver of the orphanage who takes care of Andi and Miri. In only six months, their lives have completely changed. The two brothers lived on the outskirts of a coastal town in Albania. Life seemed normal, until one day, Flutura, the mother, had left the apartment with her daughter because her husband repeatedly abused her. But now, he is in prison. The only person who can take care of the boys is Agimi, the grandfather.

He is old, with no financial means, and after two months of trying hard to take care of the two little boys, he has given up. He asked the municipality for support, stating that he is unable to care for his grandchildren and asked that the children be placed under the care of the state authorities. Immediately, the municipal employee opened a file, assessed the conditions and registered the case. It was immediately decided that both children be accommodated in a residential care institution.

He returned home, and his heart was pounding out of his chest as he thought about his grandchildren who would no longer be in his home. He knew that, despite the dedication of the caregivers, they cannot replace the warmth of the family that the boys need so much. Since then, it has been a long time in the center, and it's not known what their future will be like. Futura, the mother, can't take the kids with her, she can't go back home and has no stable income to care for her three children.

Challenges of Children in Residential Centers

Children who are part of residential care institutions are deprived of social, emotional and intellectual stimulation, which are critical to the healthy development of a child's brain. Distanced from mainstream society, children in institutions are particularly vulnerable to violence, neglect, and abuse. Experts affirm that the impact of child separation and institutionalization is severe and can last a lifetime.

The law states that the highest interest of children is not to remain in institutional care, but rather with their biological family. Currently, in Albania, 230 children live in public residential care facilities, however, most of them have biological families.Miri and Andi will continue to stay in the Institution. The time span of the parents' parental training depends on their interest, but also on the commitment of the social service structures to empower the family with a full package of services.

In the case of two children, their family is not yet ready to care for them, their father still in prison. Flutura, their mother, continues to be afraid, because her husband could get out of jail and endanger, both, her and her daughter's life.

The way to the solution

For the first time, professionals from the Ministry of Health and Social Protection in Albania and UNICEF have developed an assessment of children and their families, for every child placed in institutional care. Experts have observed and are proposing options for the reunification of children with their biological families. Even when children have to leave their families to be more safe, other forms of care have to be found to recreate the family environment, such as foster families. 

With the support of UNICEF and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfar, special teams of experts have been set up to assess the needs of children in institutional care. Work is underway with local government and residential care institutions to design and implement child development and family empowerment support programs. This team will also support each of the 231 children in six Public Care Institutions with the necessary services for their development and wellbeing until they are given opportunities to grow up in a family environment, because children like Miri and Andi deserve to grow up like all other kids.