Story of Children who Miss their Hearths
02 August, 2012

week ago, ads emerged on Georgian TV Broadcasting telling a story about a small girl who watches another child from her window. The child who is being watched has parents who care for her, and the child looking out of the window cherishes the other child’s life, saying: “How great that every morning you are greeted by your mother who prepares you tasty breakfast.”Afterwards, this little girl mentions her “aunt” Tea, who looks after her very warmly and whom she loves, but she still misses her own parents. This aunt turns out to be a social worker who helps her mother to find a job. The ad has a happy end, the mother gets a job and the girl returns to her biological parents. 

This is the story of almost 600 children who, due to Georgia’s hard socio-economic conditions for some families, are deprived of the primary right to live in their own families. These problems have come to light within Georgia’s Child Welfare Reform, which started in 2004. The fact is that number of so-called orphanages (large child care institutions) is gradually decreasing, which is very good considering the extremely bad conditions and very frequent cases of children’s rights violations and violence in them. They are being substituted by small group homes, which house around10 children each and are furnished with all basic household items necessary for normal life. These houses were repaired with the assistance of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to the Georgian government. Although well-equipped, small group homes are considered as the last choice for children when the decision of child placement is made; it comes after the options of reintegration with the biological family or alternative family based care (e.g., foster care) are exhausted.

The problem is actually huge and has numerous angles. However, this time we tried to touch on it from one corner, which is reintegration into the biological families, addressed by Save the Children in Georgia within the UNICEF-funded Strengthening Childcare Services and Systems (SCSS) project. “Based on the request of the Government’s Social Service Agency (SSA), we help them reunify children with their biological families by improving the living conditions of the most vulnerable families“Ia Shekriladze, Project Manager told Georgian Journal.

One of the leading factors why children find themselves in institutions is the need of their families. Most frequently, they are from the very low social strata and, among other things, they hardly have any access to higher education and a chance to change their families’ lives later. Therefore, another problem looms for them: where will they go as soon as they are 18 and thus, no longer kids, without any prospects for education. “In cooperation with the Government and UNICEF, we also promote vocational training for reintegrated youth and their parents, as solid education is unfortunately not common among these families’” Ia Shekriladze adds. However, first and foremost they have to address primary needs – the life conditions of the families. “Based on an initial assessment by a social worker, the family’s pressing needs are identified. Next, from a Reintegration Fund, we try to meet these primary needs; we purchase basic furniture, a fridge, sometimes a washing machine, or do repair works, if, for instance, the water is leaking from their ceiling,” Ms. Shekriladze mentions.

There are many organizations and political parties that go to child care institutions and bring children gifts and sweets. This is not bad, but this is a one-time short-term joy that vanishes as soon as these candies are finished. What matters more is what actually lies behind the problem, and the necessity to strengthen the families of these children.

From 2010, Social Service Agency of Ministry of Labor, Health and Social Protection of Georgia provides allowances to the reintegrated children, which is 90 Gel a month per child. An important piece of good news from this support is that it has helped reduce the number of large State-run child care institutions in Georgia to eight from 23. “[As noted] child welfare reform started in 2004. After that, two Government child action plans were established. Supposedly the child welfare reform will be completed by the year of 2013.”,Eka Saneblidze, Head of Department of Guardianship, Care and Social Programs from Social Service Agency noted.

“The statistics looks like this: in 2009, 280 children returned to their biological families: 250 with government allowances and 30 without this assistance.  In the next year the number of reintegrated children grew and was 309 with allowances and 38 without; in 2011, 221 and 90; in 2012, 60 and 18. At present, 258 children are left at the eight large orphanages and 318 children are at 37 small group homes. We are in the process of their assessment, as a result of which, most of them will be reintegrated to biological families,” Ms. Saneblidze comments.

“I went through very tough times in my life. I kept thinking about how other kids were going to school, how they were returning home after school, how their parents greeted and hugged them. It was very painful for me. I always wanted to see my mother and hug her. I wanted to feel the warmth that I had never felt before. My life changed when due to some problems my father took us to an orphanage. The environment there was very strange… while being there I realized that every person needs to think… after returning home I think more about my future. I want to have a good future,” 15-year-old girl mentions.

“Many things have happened in my life – good and bad. One of the happiest and most unforgettable days in my life was when I left the orphanage and returned to my beloved family,” 14-year-old boy notes.

“The day when they took me to an orphanage and left me there I remember very well. I so much did not want it … I was very unhappy there. Now, I am home, and I have many dreams,” admits 12-year-old Sophie.

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