Including the excluded:

The story of a disabled child cared for by a pioneer foster parent

UNICEF
Adela Uja from Moldova hugging her foster daughter
UNICEF/Moldova/2016/Munteanu
06 October 2016

Vasile[1], a disabled boy who was taken in foster care after spending several years in a residential institution, lives in Corpaci, a small Moldovan village, with slightly more than one thousand inhabitants. Corpaci is so close to the border with Romania, that there is no cell phone signal here, and because of that it seems serene and disconnected from the rest of the world. Nevertheless the members of the local community are not lacking human connection and solidarity.

Vasile is turning four in January, but he is still not able to talk, walk, or even eat unassisted. Even though she knew it will not be easy, Adela Uja, one of the ten foster parents in Corpaci, decided to take the boy in her care. The concept of fostering is not new to the villagers. However, it is for the first time someone accepted to foster a disabled child. Adela says that many people would not understand her thinking. She, however, is sure that she has made the right decision in taking in the disabled boy.

[1] All names of the children are changed.

The community foster care specialist approached me to ask if I can take in foster another 5-year-old, Maria, who was living in a rehabilitation center in Bălți. Because one of my foster children was adopted and left at that time, I have accepted gladly”, Adela recalls.

As life of children left without parental care is so complex, it often leaves those ready to open their homes and hearts to children with little notice on the unforeseen that may come along the way. Adela never knew that Maria, who spent the first three years of her life in the Temporary placement and rehabilitation center in Balti, also had a disabled brother. Only when she went to meet the child, Maria has mentioned the little brother, Vasile, that she has not seen for two years, despite the fact that he lived in the same residential institution since he was 7 months old. Being diagnosed with a congenital locomotor and intellectual deficiency, Vasile was placed in a different wing of the building, and never met his sister, as meetings between siblings are not deemed important in the residential care system.

For two years!!!” Adela was shocked. Two years is almost half of Maria’s life.

“I then told the foster care specialist that I want to see the boy. When they brought him in, I thought he was adorable, and I said that I will take both: the brother and the sister”, Adela continues.

Apart from Vasile and his sister Maria, Adela Uja, a former teacher with more than 25 years of experience, has in her foster placement one more sibling group: 5-year-old and 6-year-old sisters, Olga and Dana.

 

After coming to Adela‘s house – unfinished on the outside, but warm and welcoming to the children that have no home - Vasile started to make good progress in his psychosocial development. He started to walk while being held, he smiles and he learns to bite, swallow and chew food. These are things that did not happen in the institution. Vasile loves to be taken to the Prut River, which is 10 minutes away.

There he watches from his stroller the other children playing or the big, white storks flying by the river, building nests, or feeding the young. What he must have learned from them is that everyone should be entitled to as little as a home and a caring adult.

The boy’s life was transformed in many different ways. In his journey, he is attended by a multidisciplinary team of specialists weekly, and, compared to before, when he was afraid of strangers, now really enjoys their visits. Vasile is a living example proving that disabled children are sensible, delicate and resourceful human beings and that it is their exclusion, rather than their medical condition that makes them closed in on themselves.

Adela’s love and support has transformed the life of both siblings. Maria is happy. She enjoys playing with Vasile and when going for a walk, she is keeping herself close to the boy’s stroller. Recently, Maria started to attend kindergarten and makes confident progress in learning with Adela by her side.

Nevertheless, Vasile was particularly lucky, as children with disabilities in Moldova are still not given too many options besides residential care. Although, due to UNICEF’s work in Moldova, the number of children in alternative care services almost doubled compared to 10 years ago, from six to 11 thousand, around 3,000 disabled children are still left to institutions. Only six in 100 children in alternative care are currently children with disabilities. It is important that more and more children with disabilities and living in institution be given the chance to grow up like Vasile: with the love and support from a caring adult.

Corpaci is one of the Moldovan localities with the most engaged foster families in the northern region. And many more people in the village are willing to become foster parents, not taking into consideration that although it is an officially recognized job by the state, it does not provide sufficient income to care for an additional child. It is impressive for such a small village as compared to some districts where no foster care services exist at all.

Not every community is like that. UNICEF Moldova, with support from Oak Foundation, is aiming to create more family type services in all regions of the country, to strengthen day care, social and medical services to enable foster families to welcome more children with disabilities like Vasile. Over the next two years, about 25 foster families that will be able to take in children with disabilities will be supported, so that by 2017 more children will have the chance to grow in a family environment.  

foster family from Moldova
UNICEF/Moldova/2016/Munteanu
a foster family in Corpaci, Moldova
UNICEF/Moldova/2016/Munteanu