Children’s lives transformed as one of Romania’s largest orphanages closes
Nearly 200 children are now where they belong; with people who love them, thanks to the successful closure of the Sfântu Spiridon orphanage in Targu Frumos, Iasi county, Romania.
The orphanage was one of the largest remaining institutions in the country, and housed 175 boys when Hope and Homes for Children initiated the closure programme there in 2014. A further 18 children entered later.
Over the last five years, our expert team in Romania has worked tirelessly with their county and local authority partners to establish the services and support that’s essential for all the children to move safely from the orphanage to loving family or community-based care.
Now all 193 children have left Sfântu Spiridon and the orphanage is closed for good.
As is the case in orphanages around the world, most of the children who lived in Sfântu Spiridon were not all orphans. They had a parent or other relatives who loved them but poverty, disability and discrimination had made it impossible for their families to care for them without support.
By working with the state authorities to make sure families have the resources and services they need, we were able to reunite most of the children from the orphanage with their parents or other close family.
A small number of children who could not safely return to their birth families have been welcomed by foster parents and older teenagers are being supported to live independently in the community.
As part of the closure programme, we have also built four Small Group Homes to care for children with very complex additional needs, sibling groups at risk of separation and teenagers who need a stepping stone to independent living.
“The orphanage housed 175 boys when Hope and Homes for Children initiated the closure programme there in 2014… Now all the children have left and the orphanage is closed for good.”
In the orphanage, boys as young as seven slept ten to a dormitory with just one member of staff for every 20 children. Each child had a tiny locker where they could keep a few possessions. Otherwise, they had nothing and no one to call their own.
By contrast, in the Small Group Homes, the children share bright, modern bedrooms with one or two friends. They have a space to make their own and somewhere to keep their favourite things safe and private. Most importantly of all, they have the chance to live in family-sized groups with dedicated staff in a house that feels like a real home; a place where they know they are valued and where they feel they belong.
Now that he lives in one of the new Small Group Homes instead of the orphanage, 12 year-old Ilie can be with his brothers and feel part of a family again. The boys were separated from their parents because extreme poverty made it hard for their mum and dad to care for them without support. We are working hard to help Ilie and his brothers rebuild their bond with their parents and also supporting their mum and dad to provide a more secure future for their children so that Ilie and his brothers can return home and be reunited with their family for good.
But closing a single orphanage like Sfântu Spiridon not only transforms the lives of the individual children involved. By showing that orphanages can be closed in a way that’s safe and sustainable for children, each closure programme that we complete, also helps to drive child protection reform on a much wider scale.
“When you see no one doing anything to improve things, you don’t believe that things can change. I didn’t believe that Hope and Homes for Children would have the will or the resources… but they have.”
Stella Baltag is the former director of the Sfântu Spiridon orphanage and like many other people, she opposed the closure plan at the start. “When they first said that they were going to close this institution, I was so worried that I couldn’t sleep at night. I said to myself, ‘No! This is not possible.’ But once Hope and Homes for Children started work here, I could see that it was possible.
“When you see no one doing anything to improve things, you don’t believe that things can change. I didn’t believe that Hope and Homes for Children would have the will or the resources to make the change that they have, but they have,” Ms Baltag confirms.
As part of the closure programme, Stella Baltag and many of the staff from the orphanages were supported to retrain to work in the new alternative care services. Today, she is in charge of one of the Small Group Homes and now she wants to see all of Romania’s remaining orphanages closed down.
“The change that has to happen now is that education has to be improved so that everyone understands that institutions are bad for children,” she says.
When Hope and Homes for Children began work in Romania in 1998, there were 100,000 children confined to loveless institutions. Today, that figure has fallen to fewer than 6,500 and the end is in sight for orphanages in Romania. With your support we can finish the job. By reuniting families, building new families and keeping families together, we can ensure that all children grow up where they belong, with people who love them.