13 September 2017

A family at last for Bogdan and Alex

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Bogdan and Alex are the best of friends. They have a lot in common. Both boys were abandoned as babies and, until recently, the only home they had ever known was a loveless Romanian orphanage.

We first met Bogdan and Alex when we began work to close the big, male-only institution where they lived.  At that time, the facility housed close to 200 boys, teenagers and young men. At just seven, Bogdan and Alex were the youngest children there. They both have some learning difficulties and they are very small for their age. At night, they slept in a large dormitory with eight other boys. Their beds were exactly the same as all the others; the same pillow cases, the same blankets, folded in exactly the same way. They weren’t allowed to keep any personal items on or near their beds; not so much as a teddy or a book. The only place they had to call their own was a tiny locker where they were allowed to keep their personal things. These amounted to a toothbrush, a mug, a towel, some toilet paper and one small toy.  Each locker contained almost exactly the same items, arranged in exactly the same way.

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The director of the institution reassured us that Bogdan and Alex were fine. They were very close to a carer called Rosa, they even called her Mummy, she said.  But of course Rosa was not their Mummy. She worked day shifts. She was not there if they woke up in the night with an ear ache or because they had a bad dream and Rosa had as many as 20 other children to care for at any one time.

Hope and Homes for Children in Romania is working in partnership with local child protection professionals to find family or community-based care for all the children who live in the institution. Our specialist social workers assessed Bogdan and Alex and could see that, despite the challenges they faced, they were playful, sociable little boys and very close to one another. Our team was determined to find a way for Bogdan and Alex to grow up with the love and protection of a family but stay together. And they have succeeded.

In September 2016, Bogdan and Alex left the orphanage to join a loving foster family. The difference this has made to their lives is wonderful to see. Mariana and her husband, Mihai are a warm and caring couple with grown up children of their own.

When we visited the boys in their new home recently, they were playing happily in the yard. Mariana had piled the table with homemade cakes and biscuits to welcome us.

Mariana and Mihai’s house is small but they have a big garden with an orchard, a pig and some chickens. There’s plenty of space for the boys to explore.  Bogdan and Alex still share a bedroom but it has just two beds and their very own toys, clothes and personal treasures are everywhere.

Mariana told us that because her own children were girls, she was curious to find out what it was like to look after boys. And now she knows. “It’s very noisy and you need a lot of patience but the boys reward us with their affection,” she said.

“Every morning, they run into our room and jump on the bed for a cuddle. They are like kittens!” she told us, laughing. Her positive approach was summed up by the slogan on her t-shirt. It simply said, “Yes”.

Mariana’s husband, Mihai, is resigned to his new status in the household. “I come after the children but above the chickens,” he admitted with a grin.

“We decided to be foster parents because all children need a home where they feel safe and they feel loved,” Mariana explained. Judging by the number of times that Bogdan and Alex ran to her for hugs and kisses during our brief visit, that is exactly how both little boys do feel now.

Hope and Homes for Children has now helped more than 100 children and young people leave the institution where Bogdan and Alex used to live. In most cases, children have been reunited with their biological families and those families are being supported to be able to care for their children. A small number of children with special needs have moved to community based care and older teenagers and young adults have been given help to live independently. Our team in Romania is continuing to work to find the right alternative care for the children and young adults who remain in the institution and  we are confident that the orphanage will close for good next year.