Finding loving families for all children, whatever their needs: Tatiana’s story
In 2011, the UN General Assembly declared 21 March as World Down Syndrome Day. This year’s theme is “Leave no one behind”:
“All people with Down syndrome must have opportunities to live fulfilling lives, included on a full and equal basis with others, in all aspects of society.”
Today, we share Tatiana’s story of hope: confined to an orphanage since she was born, Hope and Homes for Children’s team in Moldova found her a loving foster family.
Although Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe, the number of children living in orphanages there has fallen from around 11,000 to around 2,000 in the last ten years. Together with our local partners, CCF, Hope and Homes for Children has succeeded in closing 9 orphanages and finding safe and loving family-based care for 1,162 children. Sadly though, a lack of specialist foster carers together with a lack of support for existing foster families means it’s very hard to free the most vulnerable children from institutional care and so high numbers of children with disabilities, remain confined to orphanages without the love and protection of a family. Hope and Homes for Children’s Country Director in Moldova, Lilliana Rotaru, describes the level of commitment that’s needed to find families for these most vulnerable children and close all Moldova’s orphanages for good.
Tatiana’s story: from an orphanage to a loving foster family
Recently, Livia, one of our social workers, sent me a short video from her phone. It showed a little girl called Tatiana, counting from one to ten. When she finishes, Tatiana grins broadly at the camera and fist bumps Livia in celebration. Being able to count from one to ten might not seem like much of an achievement for most nine year olds but I cannot tell you how much seeing this little film meant to me.
Livia and I first met Tatiana when she was four and a half years old. Then, she was living – existing might be a better word – in an orphanage in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau. She had been there since she was born, confined to the same cot, neglected and ignored because she has Down’s syndrome and no one believed she had a future. Because of the way she had been treated, at the point when children in the UK would be getting ready to start school, Tatiana couldn’t walk or even stand, she couldn’t eat solid food and she was tiny for her age. At that time, Hope and Homes for Children had just begun work to close the institution by finding safe and loving families for all the children there, whatever their needs. We knew it would take time and a great deal of persistence but we were determined to find the right foster family for Tatiana and in the end we succeeded.
John and Angela are a retired couple with grown up children of their own. Once we had assessed and trained them to be ready to care for Tatiana, she joined their family and has been living with them for four years now. The love and patience they have shown her have transformed her life and given her back her future. Today, Tatiana is a happy, sociable child. She can play, sing, walk, run and dance – and she does, all with great enthusiasm!
In September, Tatiana reached another hugely important milestone in her life; she began school – mainstream school with all the other children in the village where she lives. None of this would have been possible without the absolute commitment of Tatiana’s foster family and Hope and Homes for Children team in Moldova. It is a commitment that has been there from the start. As soon as Tatiana joined her new family, we made sure they had access to all the specialist rehabilitation, assessment and medical services that Tatiana needed. We covered the cost of transport to these appointments but Livia or I would always go with Angela to help her advocate for the treatment that Tatiana needed.
When it was time for Tatiana to start nursery and then primary school, the education service were anxious about admitting a child with special needs but our inclusive education co-ordinator spoke to the head teacher and she wrote to the education department in Chisinau, drawing attention to Tatiana’s right to an education but also reassuring and advising on the best approach to take. She sat in the classes during the classes to see Tatiana’s interaction with the teacher and other children and advise on the best timetable and activities for her.
And it is this kind of ongoing commitment that is needed for us to complete the work of ending institutional care and finding safe and loving families for all children in Moldova, whatever their needs.
Reforming the child protection system in Moldova
We have made great strides in terms of reforming the child protection system to focus on families instead of orphanages, working closely with the Government to develop, improve and roll out services to support vulnerable families and to establish alternative types of family care for all children, whatever their needs, to prevent children from entering the orphanage system in the first place. And we have helped hundreds of children to leave orphanages to grow up with the love and protection of a family. But still it is very hard to really close the doors of the orphanages we are targeting for good in a way that ensures that no child, however complex their needs, is left to grow up in an institution without a family to love and protect them.
The biggest obstacle we face is the limited number and capacity of foster carers for children with special needs – children with complex disabilities new-born babies who have been abandoned in the maternity hospital and also sibling groups of three or more children.
It takes more time and more resources to care for these children and foster parents need extra training, extra allowances and extra support to make this possible.
Like Tatiana’s foster parents, John and Angela, we have other beautiful cases of really committed and very supportive foster carers who are providing safe and loving homes to children from institutions who have special needs. But this kind of commitment is not an infinite well that we can draw on – it needs to be supported and replenished.
Tatiana’s foster mother, Angela, is hopeful that the commitment she has shown will inspire others in her community to consider fostering children with special needs. “If you support a tree when it’s young and take care of it, it will grow and flourish”, she tells us. “I do the same with Tatiana.”