Bitola, 2 October 2019: As of today, there are no infants or toddlers living in large scale institutions in North Macedonia. With today's opening of the five small group homes in Bitola, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy together with partners initiated the complete transformation of the "Home for Infants and Toddlers - Bitola" after the last twenty-seven children were resettled in community-based alternatives.
"I am really glad that today, directly from Bitola, I can share this wonderful news and reaffirm the commitment of the Government that every child is important to us and should have an equal start in life, receive the necessary attention, care and love. We will complete the process of ending the placement of all children [under 18 years] in large scale institutions one year ahead of schedule. In 2017, when we started the process, we had 180 children in institutions. The remaining eleven children - over the age of three - will be cared for in a family-like environment by the end of the year. We will continue to care for children with even more dedication and love because early childhood development is crucial for the further development of children,” said Minister Carovska at the opening of one of the five small group homes in Bitola.
The British Ambassador, Rachel Galloway emphasized that the process of deinstitutionalization proves that with the right dedication, we can build a positive and inclusive value-based society.
"This initiative is part of the United Kingdom’s overall commitment to support improving policies and practices on social cohesion and diversity in North Macedonia. In Bitola, this will be the fourth national institution to remove all children from large-scale institutional care. This is great progress on the Government's commitment to end institutional care for children under 18 by the end of 2020. This proves that with the right commitment and dedication we can build a more positive, value-based and inclusive society,” Galloway said.
UNICEF Representative, Benjamin Perks emphasised that the Government's ongoing commitment is crucial to the success of this reform.
“Children are biologically programmed from birth to have a relationship with a parent or caregiver that provides protection, nurturing and love. When this is absent, it has profound effects on the wellbeing of the infant. This is why there is no decision a Government can make that will have a greater impact on the life of a person, than what to do with a child deprived of parental care. We celebrate and congratulate the Government on this historic reform - for the first time in recent history there is no infant or toddler living in a large-scale institution. But to sustain its success, this reform will need continuous commitment and resources,” said Perks.
The Director of the “Home for Infants and Toddlers - Bitola", Elena Nikolovska noted that the small group homes currently provide care for the twenty-seven children and support will be provided by thirty caregivers and four skilled workers. Not one person previously working in the institution was left without employment.
"Care in a small group home not only provide children with better physical and living conditions. Equally important, working in a group home will provide my colleagues with an opportunity to have individual approach to each child, to better fulfill the child’s needs. The intense personal interaction and the dedication of the staff will make for better stimulate child development and growth and provide them with an equal basis for success in life, like all other children that are growing up in a family environment," said Nikolovska.
The Mayor of Bitola, Natasa Petrovska welcomed the deinstitutionalization process and noted that part of the former infant home will be transformed into a kindergarten.
“Today is a sunny day for Bitola because we have provided care for a vulnerable group. I am grateful to the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, UNICEF, the British Embassy and to the staff in the Home for infants and toddlers without parental care. I am especially thankful to the Ministry which gave us part of the Home to be used as a kindergarten - we definitely need more kindergarten capacities in this period,” said Petrovska.
The home in Bitola is not closing, rather it is being transformed into a provider of new social services for children and families. Among them will include a Regional Center for Support of Foster Families which will open in early 2020, and other services foreseen in the recently adopted Law on Social Protection.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.mk.