Keeping families together

We support the development of effective childcare systems that keep children out of residential institutions.

girl playing piano in a residential institution, Moldova
UNICEF/Moldova/2012/Gutu

The challenge

The impact of child separation and institutionalization is severe and can last a lifetime.

Every child has the right to grow up in a supportive, caring and nurturing family environment. No child should be placed in any residential care setting simply because the family is poor or finds it difficult to access basic health services, social protection or education.

The impact of child separation and institutionalization is severe and can last a lifetime. Children placed in institutions are deprived of social, emotional and intellectual stimulation, which can hamper the healthy development of a child’s brain. Shut away from mainstream society, these children are also particularly vulnerable to violence, neglect and abuse. 

However, there are situation in which parents, particularly young single mothers are struggling with finding financial support or even a home. They need help in order to offer their children a family.  

Three months spent in a residential institution equals one month in developmental delay.

From its earliest days in Moldova, UNICEF has worked to end child institutionalization.

Back in 1996, Moldova was experiencing acute difficulties associated with its transition to a market economy: hyperinflation, a 70% drop in wages, and a corresponding decline in public expenditures.

As a result, over half of families lived in poverty, and infant and child mortality have increased.

Additionally, there were an estimated 20,000 institutionalized children - orphans and children with special needs who were often badly nourished, received little medical care and endured the harsh winter without adequate heating.

The first photographs taken by UNICEF in Moldova portray children living in a boarding school in Ungheni. The Institution housed children from eight to 16-years-old, who were orphans or came from families who cannot adequately care for them.

 

Ungheni institution
UNICEF/1996
Seated amidst other children around tables at lunchtime, a girl and a boy smile, while another boy looks from behind, in the cafeteria of a boarding school, in the town of Ungheni.
Ungheni institution
UNICEF/1996
Other children behind them in a classroom, a girl and a boy sit at a desk writing, at a boarding school in the town of Ungheni.

The solution

We push for effective child-care systems that keep families together.

Back in 2007, more than 11,500 children called a residential institution home. Today, due to common efforts to reform the residential care system that number dropped to 2,000.

We supported the gate keeping mechanisms, preventing children from being sent to institutions in the first place, through improved social work services, improved case management, and decision-making on the fate of a vulnerable child. In addition, we focused our advocacy efforts on inclusive education for children with disabilities and the development of day care services.

Most of those 2,000 children are either very young, aged up to 3, or have a disability – children most in need of a family.

Parents and communities need to know that residential institutions are not the only alternative for parents who have no incomes, or need help with a disabled child.

Respective services were already developed in 19 districts and will continue to be implemented across the country. 

The triad of social assistant, family doctor and mayor are now there to provide access to the services young parents need.

Given the devastating and potentially life-long impact of institutionalization at an early age, we push for effective child-care systems that keep families together wherever possible. We are also supporting the development of alternative family-based care services.

The number of children growing up in large residential institutions in Moldova has fallen, while the numbers of children without adequate parental care in other forms of care, such as foster families, is rising.