Small group homes, are not just a place to live, they give children a sense of love and belonging

One of the alternatives for children who cannot grow up in a family, is a small group home, like the one in Berovo.

UNICEF MK
One of the boys living in the small group home in Berovo is reading a book, while sitting on his bed.
UNICEF/2017/Georgiev

08 August 2018

Imagine growing up without a person who dedicates their love, care and protection. When the care of a family is removed, it is heart-breaking for the child and can be damaging for their growth and development. A large institution, like orphanages or children’s home, can never replace the love and support provided in a family environment. That’s why UNICEF is helping the government to end the placement of children in large institutions and to transform institutions to support community based family like alternatives.

One of the alternatives for children who cannot grow up in a family, is a small group home, like the one in Berovo. For the past nine years, it’s provided children a safe and caring family like environment and serves as a model for community based alternatives to care in a large-scale institution.

How does the Small Group Home in Berovo replicate family life? To start, the Small Group Home in Berovo is a regular house in a neighbour where other families live. And like other families, it’s a home were a small number of children, live together with the twenty-four-hour care and support of carers.

One of the carers in the Berovo Small Group Home hugging one of the children.
UNICEF/2017/Georgiev
One of the carers in the Berovo Small Group Home hugging one of the children.

Like in other families, children in Small Group Homes get the one-on-one interaction, care and love of an adult they need.

Four out of the five children living currently in the Small Group Home in Berovo were pre-schoolers when they first came into care in the home. They have now grown up into adolescents thriving in school and in life. Even in these awkward teenage years, they still enjoy the warmth of a hug from their careers, each one of them they call “mama”.

One of the boys living in the small group home is helping with the cooking of the meal for all children, standing over the stove and mixing the boiling soup.
UNICEF/2017/Georgiev
Petar (16) loves to help with cooking for instance, which is why he is considering a career in the tourism industry.

Like in other families, Small Group Homes give children a sense of stability and belonging.

Making sure there is a certain routine, like dedicating time to do every day things an ordinary family does, like eat, learn or play, is essential for giving children a sense of stability and belonging. “All children are different, we listen to their personal interests, their feelings and we do our best to support them,” Krzhoska says.

One of the girls in the small group home in Berovo is helping in the kitchen by setting the dishes on the eating table for the rest of the children.
UNICEF/2017/Georgiev
All children actively take part in the activities around the home, from cooking to gardening, by completing chores that are adequate for their age and development.

Like in other families, children who live in Small Group Homes get an environment enabling them to develop.

“Children have progressed at so many levels: they have better outcomes at school, improved health and healthy habits, self-confidence, social skills,” says Jasmina Krzhoska, educator.

One of the boys living in the small group home in Berovo is operating a lawnmower to tidy up the grass in the backyard of the small group home.
UNICEF/2017/Georgiev
The lawnmower is reserved for the older kids. That is why being allowed to use it, even under tight supervision, is a special reward for 13-year-old Jovan.

A supportive family builds children’s sense of responsibility, self-worth and prepares them for independent livingThe Small Group Home does it as well.

When children are gradually introduced to greater responsibility, they not only get have their confidence boosted, but their self–confidence, but a boost for their curiosity and their ambition. “Becoming more responsible is an important milestone for them, as they will have to be able to do well on their own, once they turn 18 years of age,” Krzhoska says.

UNICEF is supporting a Government led de-institutionalisation reform, which among things, includes efforts to ensure every child in the country grows up in a safe and caring family environment by investing in prevention of abandonments and support to biological families; expanding the network of foster families and small group homes for children without parental care; investment in improving the quality of alternative care through standardization, and investment in early detection and intervention of development difficulties.

*Names changed to protect children’s identity.