Assisted Social Housing – A Service that Ensures Safety and Social Inclusion for Children and Youth
UNICEF Moldova supports children and young people who have left the residential care system by developing the 'Assisted Social Housing' social service.
Gheorghe's childhood was marked by numerous hardships, though you would only truly understand this if he decided to share with you all his memories. Today, 18-year-old Gheorghe smiles, studies, and aspires to become an internationally recognized chef. For over six months, he has lived with other young people in one of four assisted social housing units in Chisinau, supported by UNICEF.
By accessing the 'Assisted Social Housing' social service, children and young people in difficult situations benefit from accommodation, support in training skills for independent living, counselling for further studies, community integration, and employment.
"We are like a family here. I participate in various activities. I have realized that I can achieve many things and explore the world. The specialists provide the same love and care they have for their own children," says Gheorghe." They try to give us all the support we need. From them, I have learned the meaning of respect for others and unconditional help. I have learned how to take care of myself and my home. I have also received advice for an independent life."
Here, Gheorghe met Alexandru, a young man from Mykolaiv, Ukraine, who fled the war without his parents. The border police identified and referred him to child protection specialists at the Blue Dot centre. Alexandru was supported by a foster family in Cahul thanks to a programme developed by UNICEF in partnership with the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, with support from the European Union Humanitarian Aid, the USA BPRM US Bureau of Population, and the United States Fund for UNICEF. After turning 18, the boy was placed in an assisted social housing unit. "Here, everyone has given me hope and a home where I can live peacefully and prepare for a new beginning," says Alexandru.
Gheorghe and Alexandru have developed a beautiful friendship, which helps them recover, dream of a bright future, and become part of a community. Gheorghe is passionate about cooking and crafts. He is studying at a vocational school in Chisinau and will officially become a certified chef in a year. Alexandru dreams of settling in the USA and becoming a Hollywood actor. However, until then, the young men are engaged in various educational activities that help them regain a sense of normalcy and embrace a healthy lifestyle. Depending on individual needs, specialists provide them with support and advice in the study process, facilitating access to community services and how to identify a job.
Children and adolescents living in assisted social housing units receive ongoing support and supervision from child protection specialists, psychologists, and social educators until they become self-sufficient and ready for an independent life. Lilia is one of the social educators who support these children and young people. She believes in the power of social inclusion and communication. "They come to us very scared and confused, and our mission is to integrate them into society. Together, we go shopping, explain how to choose the right product, and teach them many other essential life skills,” says Lilia. “Additionally, we organize literary evenings and accompany them to theatres and parks. They are adolescents, and we have extensive discussions about interpersonal relationships. Also, we communicate regularly with their teachers to avoid any risks. We are like a family where we teach our children how to be part of society."
Asked about the initial positive results, the specialist says, "The young people have become much more relaxed. If I am not at work, I receive frequent calls from Gheorghe and the other boys. I have become their mentor. We have a wonderful relationship, and the children have easily integrated and enjoy it. Initially, we were worried if Alexandru would have a good relationship with the boy, he shares the room with, but they have become friends. This is a successful project, and I hope we can help as many young people in risky situations as possible. This service is like a pathway to adult life."
Due to the prolonged peace delay in Ukraine and Alexandru's parents still residing in one of the heavily affected cities, he requires support to ensure his safety in Moldova. This support includes free access to healthcare services, protection, counseling, and financial assistance. "In the future, I will help other young people affected by the war, just as I have been helped," says Alexandru. Gheorghe also has ambitious dreams that he pursues with determination and passion: "I am confident that I will have my restaurant in Italy, a beautiful family and a small home. When I grow up, I will earn enough money to lend a helping hand to children who lack parental care. I have been inspired by the people who have supported me."
The Assisted Social Housing service is part of a series of projects initiated based on the Memorandum of Understanding signed by UNICEF and the Chisinau Municipality to strengthen the child protection system, especially in the context of the refugee crisis. To date, this service has supported 24 children and young people, of whom ten girls and 14 boys, including refugees. Children and young people aged 16 to 21 are eligible for the 'Assisted Social Housing' service.
According to the latest official data from the end of 2022, authorities identified more than 13,000 children at risk and 33,000 children separated from their parents.
UNICEF thanks donors, such as the European Union Humanitarian Aid, the Government of France, the USA BPRM US Bureau of Population, and the United States Fund for UNICEF, for supporting the ‘Assisted Social Housing’ social service, which provides protection and care to vulnerable children from Moldova and Ukraine.