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UNICEF Executive Board witnesses progress for at-risk children in Kyrgyzstan

© UNICEF/2007
UNICEF Executive Board member Michel Kafando, Ambassador of Burkina Faso, speaks with a young man at the Centre for Street Children in Bishkek.

By Galina Solodunova

ISSYK-ATINSKIY, Kyrgyzstan, 1 May 2007 – Following on the heels of missions earlier this year to Liberia, Panama and Peru, the President and three Vice Presidents of the UNICEF Executive Board have just returned from Kyrgyzstan, where they visited UNICEF-supported projects to help at-risk children and families.

During their visit, which took place 22-28 April, the four members of the Bureau of the Executive Board had a chance to see firsthand the work of the Children and Family Support Department, which was created on a pilot basis in the Issyk-Atinskaya District in 2002.

The new structure was initiated by the local authorities, supported by UNICEF and established by government decree.

New approach to helping children

Every year, the Children and Family Support Department serves more than 1,000 children. Rather than waiting for children to come to them, the department’s staff members go out to identify at-risk children and then provide help to prevent them from being placed in residential care institutions, which were once common in Kyrgyzstan.

© UNICEF/2007
At a ‘family-type home’ in Issyk-Atinskaya (right to left), Board President Javier Loayza Barea, Ambassador of Bolivia, with Kyaw Tint Swe, Ambassador of Myanmar; Michel Kafando, Ambassador of Burkina Faso; and Robert Hill, Ambassador of Australia.

If a child has no identifiable relatives, the department seeks out another family for adoption. And just recently, it has started to provide a new service – foster care.

The approach taken by this new department aims to decrease the number of social orphans and the rate of child neglect, assist in the rehabilitation of traumatized children and support better family care for children.

Path to adoption

Alina, 9, was brought to a child centre a year ago, when it was discovered that she was living alone.

“We used to have a big beautiful house,” she says. “Then, we were moved to a block of flats and we lived there. It was bad there, not beautiful. Nothing to eat. Mom and dad drank alcohol.”

Adoptive mother Lubov Karachaeva received child-care training from the Children and Family Support Department and decided to take in Alina and another girl, Vika, age 8. “There was an article in the newspaper. It got deep in my heart. I have a desire to do something good,” Ms. Karachaeva says of her decision to adopt the girls.

From the streets to foster care

Kabai, another at-risk child, was a reserved, suspicious six-year-old when he first entered the child centre. His mother had been killed before his eyes and his father had disappeared. Taken in by his grandmother, who tried hard to care for him on a small pension, he became unmanageable and aggressive. He left home, and she died soon afterward.

© UNICEF/2007
A young girl in the classroom at the Issyk-Ata Day Care Centre.

The boy was brought to the center after an anonymous woman called the department to report that she had seen a homeless child begging for food in the market.

Kabai spent a year living in a group home. It was there – by going to school and playing with other children – that Kabai gradually learned about positive family relations. He was eventually taken in by foster parents who are both schoolteachers.

‘Positive way of thinking’

Staff members at the Children and Family Support Department undergo an eight-month training course, designed and supported by UNICEF, to learn about beneficial practices that are used to aid children at risk in other countries, and to develop their own work procedures.

When the training is complete, they make household visits to identify children and families in difficult life situations and meet with children who have been left without parental care. With the help of the local government and schools, the department has started two care centers for preschool children from at-risk families, a day-care centre for children with disabilities and a family-style group home.

The members of the UNICEF Executive Board visited the child centres, as well as a ‘family-type home’ with young children who live in a house that they decorate themselves to create a warm and friendly environment.

“All the teachers and all the people that I saw – it’s some sort of energy that comes from them in order to provide this positive way of thinking,” says Executive Board President Javier Loayza Barea.

Amy Bennett contributed to this story from New York.




30 April 2007:
UNICEF Correspondent Rachel Warden reports on the recent trip to Kyrgyzstan undertaken by members of the Bureau of UNICEF’s Executive Board.
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