The UN estimates that up to eight million children are living in care institutions around the world. Of these, 80% are not orphans - at least four out of five children have one or both parents alive.
Extensive research has documented the terrible developmental damage caused by raising children in large institutions, including severe delays in their ability to talk, walk and relate to others. Isolated, institutionalised children often endure chronic neglect and abuse and as a result go on to face severe problems in adulthood. There is compelling evidence which demonstrates how children are able to recover and thrive once removed from institutions and cared for by families or in family-type environments.
Together with our partner Hope and Homes for Children, ARK wants to see an end to harmful institutional care in Romania and provide a model for action in other parts of Eastern Europe. ARK's programmes in Romania and Bulgaria (completed in 2009) have already transformed the lives of more than 13,000 children, and we aim to benefit a further 13,000 by 2014.
In 2011, ARK was awarded one of the most prestigious development awards at the annual UK Charity Awards for our work in Bulgaria to support children to leave institutional care and prevent children from being abandoned. The judges commended us for successfully closing an institution for the first time in the country and for spearheading reform of the child protection system.