In 2012, we helped 2,035 children remain with their families
Nine out of ten children living in state care in Romania have at least one parent alive, but poverty, social stigma and lack of support keep them separated from their families. Evidence shows that institutional care damages children's development irreversibly and dramatically reduces their opportunities in life; in Romania 66% of children in institutions do not attend mainstream schools and 88% do not go to university.
Since 2002 we have been working, in partnership with Hope and Homes for Children (HHC), to support the Romanian government in the wholesale reform of their child care system, including the closure of all institutions by 2020.
The alternative to institutions is a model which champions prevention - supporting families to stay together - and strong family and community-based care. For children already living in institutions, we adopt three strategies:
REUNITING CHILDREN WITH THEIR ORIGINAL FAMILIES We try wherever possible to reunite children with their families, ensuring care-givers have the support they need to create safe, secure homes.
FOSTER/ADOPTION FAMILIES If birth families are unable to care for their children, we work to place children with a foster or adoption family.
SMALL-GROUP HOMES When all other avenues have been exhausted, we support children to live in small-group homes, where carers act as foster parents.
This alternative model of care is far better for children and society and more cost-efficient in the long term.
HHC have worked directly with children and carers to prevent institutionalisation and to promote family-style care. Ark has also focused on influencing national and international policy so that family based care is prioritised in Romania in the years ahead.
KEEPING CHILDREN OUT OF INSTITUTIONS AND EXPANDING FAMILY-BASED CARE
In 2012, in partnership with county child protection teams, we helped 2,035 children remain with their families and avoid entering state care by offering practical and psychological assistance to families, often at a time of temporary crisis. HHC is now working with prevention services in seven counties out of 47, three more than planned nationally for this year.
We removed 184 children from harmful, large-scale institutions and closed the last remaining institution in Maramures county. Maramures is the first county in Romania to have documented how it closed all institutions, providing a blue-print for other counties to follow.
We also taught 424 staff (one out of four in our target counties) how to communicate better with children, manage challenging behaviour, stop abuse, and prepare children for life outside an institution. The quality of care given to children - as measured across a wide range of practical and professional skills - improved by 20% on average after our training. These newly-trained carers will be at the forefront of reform as it spreads nationally.
SECURING NATIONAL SUPPORT FOR CHANGE
In April 2012 we produced Romania's first comprehensive national audit of child care services, covering all remaining institutions, the children living in them, the support services in place and identifying gaps. We found that lack of funds for alternative care meant 37 out of 45 child protection services surveyed had no plans to shut remaining institutions. The audit is providing the hard facts and evidence needed by the Romanian government to draw up a detailed national closure plan by 2015.
LEVERAGING FUNDS FOR REFORM
We are working to ensure that existing European Union funding can be directed towards Romania's child care reform. In early June, we hosted a series of high-level events on deinstitutionalisation at the European Parliament in Brussels; nearly two-thirds of attendees "agreed completely" with our call for the EU to work with member states to close institutions. The European Parliament has since ratified the use by member states of EU cohesion policy funding to finance the transition to family style child care.
HHC has been selected as one of only a handful of non-governmental organisations to sit on the national forum advising how Romania should use EU money. We will be well-placed to influence the Government's decisions about child care reform once the 2014 - 2020 EU budget is agreed.
Ark will continue to support family-style care. We will close two further institutions and train 100 more county child care staff. In each county, we will train a child care inspector to assess the quality of care against family-based standards.
Andrei was put into care when his parents divorced and his mother had nowhere to live with her four children. He was first placed in a small-group home funded by a religious group. In May 2012 he was abandoned with his personal belongings - but without explanation - in front of the local child protection department offices. Andrei was then sent to live in an old-style institution, even though his mother very much wanted all her children with her and Andrei was always asking when he could come home.
Lack of suitable housing and money were the only barriers to reuniting Andrei's mother with her children. HHC developed a care plan in collaboration with the local child protection department. We have helped Andrei's mother find an apartment and paid the first six months' rent. Together with the local child protection team we will continue to monitor the family's progress.
Now that Andrei and his siblings are back together with their mother, he is flourishing in the care of his reunited family. His mother has found a job and is managing to provide for her children. After graduating from school, Andrei plans to go to vocational college to train for a job in construction and become financially independent.