The missing hug

For every child to grow up in a caring, supportive family

Anila Miria and David Gvineria
Roberto greets
11 June 2020

While the COVID19 lockdown brought many families together and closer than before, for many children, living in residential care institutions, the reality was different. Irma, the residential care giver and her fellow colleagues, had to make a very tough choice between staying at home or locking themselves up in their work place and look after the children without parental care. Irma chose the latter. She, and her co-workers, self-quarantined themselves for 52 days, leaving own families and kids back at home.

UNICEF Albania team led by the Representative together with the Minister of Health and Social Protection, visited the institution where Irma works, as an expression of gratitude to her and all other caregivers who placed their professional dedication above all other matters and ensured safety, wellbeing, and protection for children without parental care, strictly following the public health guidelines.

“At the outset of it, children simply couldn’t understand what was going on; we never had such experience before. We were all very concerned about our own kids and elderly but we decided to stay.”-said Irma.

“Days and nights passed by slowly and were filled with anxiety. I got swept in by the fear of catching the virus and passing it on to the children. We got overloaded by Information and news. However, we found strength in those little kids. All this was rewarded…those kids needed us, and we felt more valuable than ever. Every hug from them reminded me of my own kids how I had been missing them so much!”-said Irma tenderly. “I can’t wait to rush back to them as soon as the lockdown eases”.

The Minister of Health and Social Protection in her address to the caregivers said: “Serving children without parental care is a mission. You fulfilled this mission the best way possible and we are proud of that. We would like to thank UNICEF for helping us through these challenging days.”

 In his remarks, UNICEF Representative in Albania, Roberto De Bernardi, reiterated: “I am fully aware, that all of you and many more frontline child protection workers had to put aside your own needs and demonstrate utmost dedication to those who needed your support. These choices are not randomly made, they are not easy, and I fully understand that while helping others, you never stopped worrying about your own families. Despite  all odds, you have shown outstanding professionalism paired with human kindness and that is the most powerful mix which will overcome this and many other challenges.”

As the pandemic eases, UNICEF will continue to focus on supporting family-based and community-based programs for children at risk of or separated from the family environment. The National Action Plan for De-Institutionalization has been already prepared, thanks to UNICEF’s support, and is now awaiting the endorsement by the Council of Ministers. The approval of the national plan will help Albania to put an end to the placement of children, especially those under three years of age, in residential care.

“Since accompanied by the Minister of Health and Social Protection, I’m taking this opportunity to once again confirm UNICEF’s and Government’s pledge to De-Institutionalize all children from all large-scale residential care institutions and instead invest in empowering families and family-based alternative care in Albania, because nothing hurts more than being away from a loving family environment, be it for a child, a parent or caregiver.” – concluded De Bernardi.