What is a Small Group Home?
Interview with Hayk Khemchyan, UNICEF's Child Protection Specialist
What is a small group home?
Hayk – When we speak about the small group home in Vanadzor, it is important to know that it is an alternative to an orphanage and not to a family. This is a home where up to eight children can live in at a time, of course, preferably on a temporary basis, until sustainable and favorable solutions are found for each child. To put this into simpler words, for a child in a difficult situation it is like finding temporary shelter at a "relative’s house" until family issues are resolved and she or he either returns home or transitions to a foster family. This is an alternative care model, which, just as any other model, is aimed at improving the lives of the most vulnerable children and ensuring that their rights, in this case the right of the child to live in a family-like environment is protected.
What makes it different from the orphanage?
Hayk – In the orphanage, even in the best of circumstances, it is extremely difficult or impossible to provide individual approach to every child, since there are few employees and many children. The maximum number of children in a small group house is eight, and during the day, two professionals and one team leader are always with them. Here each child is treated individually, each child receives love and care and the opportunity to grow up in a family-like environment and get acquainted with family values.Here everyone is eats breakfast, lunch and dinner at one table. The children participate in certain chores, shop together, decide what to eat, how to celebrate this or that holiday. Here children can open the refrigerator whenever they want and eat what they want, wash when they want, but of course here, as in every home, there is a desirable routine that they try to follow. Here children are members of a large family, and it is important that they are participating in decisions related to them. Here the staff go to the stores together with the children to buy clothes for them, and maybe this is the reason why the children have started to take extra care of their stuff; because it belongs to them. Children live here on a temporary basis and acquire life skills that are very important for a child who has never had the opportunity to live in a "complete family" to be able to adapt in foster or other families, or to smoothly transition to an independent life.
Who is funding the small group home?
Hayk – UNICEF Armenia office launched the small group home model in Vanadzor, Lori Region, in December 2018 with the financial and technical support of the Bulgarian government. In Bulgaria, for the past 10 years, all major residential care institutions were transformed into community-based and family-like care services, including similar small group homes, as well as a functional foster family system has been established. The primary goal of creating small group homes in Lori region was to offer solutions to the children of large-scale institutions in the region, for which other, more favorable alternatives to the 24-hour large-scale institution could not be offered considering the reorganization process in the region. Certainly, placement of children in small group homes is not the best solution for children, but the benefits of this option are undeniable, especially as the country goes through the reorganization of large-scale residential care institutions.
As a result
Hayk – In UNICEF we strongly believe that every child should live in a family - be it biological, kinship, adoptive or foster. However, if it is not possible to arrange the child's care through one of the mentioned options for whatever reason or if it does not stem from the best interests of the child, we propose the small group home model as a transitional solution until the establishment of the child protection system in the country. This model has long been used effectively in developed countries. This program is implemented jointly with Fund for Armenian Relief Children’s Support Center. Together we often visit the children at the small group home who impatiently look forward to seeing their friends who love them. They greet us exactly in the same way - with love.
“Had you met these eight children on the first day and today, just six months later, you would have personally witnessed the enormous difference that I feel. The children now communicate more confidently. They have learned to care for each other, express their emotions, understand what it means to have a personal corner, as well as the fact that they are free to express their desires, and most importantly, that there are people who listen to them and make their wishes come true and, even sometimes, spoil them.”