Karolina’s journey: from orphanage to family
Residential care institutions have a negative impact on the health and well-being of the children who live there
If I ask you what you consider the most important thing in life, you might take your time to respond or perhaps immediately come up with some answers, but I am certain that “family” would either take first place or be among the most common replies. After spending almost six years at an orphanage, Karolina now lives with her foster parents and her immediate response to this question is “family” followed by “mother and father” in the same breath.
Karolina was eight years old when she was taken to an orphanage. When she was 14, she was welcomed into the home and family of Hermine, who had decided to become a foster parent. Hermine already had a six-year-old daughter, Maria, at the time. After a complicated pregnancy, she had chosen to avoid another childbirth, but had made the definite decision that Maria needed a sister. They had a relative working at the orphanage, to whom she would regularly pay visits, thus meeting the kids as well. The children already knew Hermine and would always run up to say hello. “Karolina always stood separately from the other children, isolated. She had such sad eyes. She seemed to have grown even more isolated when her sister had been adopted but she had been left behind,” Hermine told us, “And that’s one of the reasons I wanted to take Karolina home with us.”
Around 3,000 children in Armenia live in residential care institutions.
Over the past several decades, independent studies from different countries have demonstrated that residential care institutions have a negative impact on the health and well-being of the children who live there.
“Frankly speaking, Karolina was very withdrawn, shy and reserved at first. She is different now. They’ve even told me at school that is she is much more active,’’ Hermine said, describing Karolina.
Hermine speaks of Karolina’s academic performance with maternal warmth and the kind of pride that only a parent can experience. While she is not a straight A student, the only subject where she has a difficulty is geography. Compared to last year, she has improved by a grade level in all the other subjects she studies.
Hermine also recalled how Karolina continued to live “for herself” at first, making up just her part of the bed, or washing only her own dish after meals. “But all I needed to do for Karolina to change was to tell her that this was not just YOU or ME, that this was now about how WE would live together. I can’t describe how happy I am that she considers this place to be her home and us to be her family,” Hermine said with tears in her eyes.
A foster family is one that has no biological ties to the given child but is ready to provide a loving environment for those who need parental care. And could there be a child out there who does not need a family?
UNICEF aims at providing a loving, caring and supportive family or creating a similar environment which will help children reach their full potential. This can absolutely work for Armenia, as resources can be directly addressed to the children and families in need, instead of supporting only residential care institutions.
When I asked Karolina to describe an ideal day, she described how they had prepared for the New Year – decorating the Christmas tree, setting the table, visiting others, receiving guests, eating delicious food, and so on. She also said that really enjoys it when everyone in the family gathers around the TV set to watch a family film together.
When asked about her dreams, Karolina said “I really want my best friend from the orphanage, Sirush, to have a family, a mother and father, one day.” We spoke a lot more together but she never told me what she personally wished for herself. Perhaps she felt that her dream would only come true if she kept it a secret.
In 2015-2018, around 64 families in Armenia were trained and licensed to become foster parents. If you want to become a foster parent and help children without parental care, please submit your documents to City Hall in Yerevan or your regional municipal administration if you live outside the capital.