Tatiana fought to survive orphanage care; she shouldn’t have to fight for her future, too
Tatiana is eleven years old and knows just what she needs to be happy. She doesn’t have many words but she has no trouble letting her foster mum, Angela, know too. But then Tatiana has always known her own mind; even as a tiny child, trapped in an orphanage cot.
Because she has Down’s Syndrome, Tatiana was consigned to the institution at birth and forgotten. No one there played with her or encouraged her to learn. No one believed she had a future. Even as a toddler, no one even took the time to teach Tatiana to eat solid food. Instead, she was force-fed liquidised slop through a tube. But she refused to be treated this way and spat out her meals; an act of defiance that nearly cost her her life.
“When I first saw Tatiana in the orphanage, she was four years-old but she only weighed about ten kilograms”, our CEO Mark Waddington remembers.
“She showed every sign of the damage that institutions cause to children; muscle wastage and compulsive rocking and gnawing at the edge of her cot for stimulation,” Mark recalls. “Tatiana was hanging onto her life by her very finger tips.”
Mark met Tatiana when our partner organisation, CCF Moldova, began work to close the orphanage where she was struggling to survive. Our goal was to find safe and loving families for all the children who lived there.
Finding the right family to care for Tatiana was an enormous challenge because of the stigma that still surrounds people with disabilities in Moldova. But CCF’s specialist social work team never gave up. Led by Livia Marginean (pictured), a dedicated and experienced psychologist, they fought red tape and prejudice at every turn to find Angela to be a wonderful foster mother to Tatiana.
Angela, who is retired with six adult children of her own, grew up with a brother who had Down’s Syndrome. She understood not just the challenges that Tatiana was facing, but all that Tatiana could achieve—with the right support.
“I want Tatiana to be raised with love and warmth and affection. Like a tree, if you support a tree when it’s young and take care of it, it will grow and develop. I do the same for Tatiana,” she told us then.
“Finding the right family to care for Tatiana was an enormous challenge… [our specialist social work team] fought red tape and prejudice at every turn to find Angela to be a wonderful foster mother to Tatiana.”
Tatiana has been with Angela and her family for seven years now and she has blossomed. When Tatiana first left the orphanage, she couldn’t stand or walk by herself. Soon, she could not only walk, she could run and she discovered that she loved to dance.
Our CEO, Mark Waddington, has stayed in touch and on his most recent visit, he was delighted to see how much Tatiana has grown.
“She’s really tall, very vibrant and very active now,” Mark reports, “and when Angela puts on her favourite song (Dance Monkey by Tones and I) Tatiana is electrified. She’s up and dancing, doing all the hand movements.”
Livia and her team have been there for Tatiana and her foster mum, Angela, every step of the way. Mark says Tatiana lights up when they visit. Crucially, they have fought long and hard to make it possible for Tatiana to go to the local school, alongside the other children in her neighbourhood.
This has not been an easy road for Tatiana who has endured prejudice from the authorities and bullying from her classmates. But she has won through.
“This has not been an easy road for Tatiana who has endured prejudice from the authorities and bullying from her classmates. But she has won through.”
During the pandemic, life had been more difficult for Tatiana and Angela, Livia tells us. Mostly, they have had to stay at home but very occasionally they go to the store together. “Then Tatiana is very happy,” Livia explains, “she puts on the mask by herself, and she holds it in place if it moves, as if she understands it is important that masks are worn correctly.”
But despite all the progress that Tatiana has made, Livia and her team know that her long-term future is not secure. Her foster mum, Angela, is getting older and sadly, her foster dad died two years ago. Angela may struggle to cope alone as Tatiana becomes a teenager and then a young woman.
“The great danger is that Tatiana will be sent to an institution for adults with disabilities,” Livia explains, “and that would be a disaster for her. Without a family to love her, she would regress and completely shut down.”
Livia and her colleagues are doing all they can to prepare a path to adulthood for Tatiana but it will not be easy. There are still very few resources available to support people with Down’s Syndrome to live free of institutions in Moldova or any of the countries in which we operate.
“Although our focus now is on finding families for children with disabilities who are confined to orphanages”, Mark says, “in the long term, we must also make sure that the services and support are there to keep Tatiana and children in her situation, free of institutions for life.”
For now though, Tatiana is where she belongs, with a family to cherish her and let her be happy, dancing to the music she loves. “Every time I visit Tatiana, I can see how living in a family has completely transformed her life”, Mark confirms.
“Tatiana’s foster mum, Angela, is getting older and sadly, her husband died a year ago. Angela may struggle to cope alone… ‘The great danger is that Tatiana will be sent to an institution for adults with disabilities’”
Too often, the voices and stories of women, especially those involved in the care of children, is marginalised and hidden. Throughout March, we’ll be sharing stories that demonstrate how the empowerment of women also helps to ensure children grow up with the love of a family and the safety of home.