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Romanian OrphansClick here to read about the Institution Closure Programme
When the first cameras entered the Romanian orphanages in 1990 the world was stunned by what was revealed.
The pictures of starving, freezing unloved children had a huge impact.
Not all the children in the orphanages were actual orphans. Many had been abandoned by desperately poor families who had been forced to have more children than necessary as part of Ceausescu's insane popluation building policy.
Owing to the large number of foreign aid groups who focused exclusively on the orphanages we have tended to concentrate our efforts elsewhere, for example helping the orphanages for the disabled older children.
According to statistics issued by the National Authority for Child Protection and Adoption (NACPA), in 1990 there were 47,405 children in social care institutions of whom 8,558 were in nurseries, 25,870 in orphanages and 6,919 in specialised units for children with disabilities.
The official figures for institutionalised children grew until 1994 to 52,986 but since 1998, efforts have been made to improve the situation (alternative forms of family type protection and measures adopted to prevent institutionalisation and abandonment).
As a result, the number of children in institutions (ie orphans) was said to be 44,725. At the end of 2000 when total responsibility for child care was transferred to the NAPCA the number of children protected in public organizations was reported as 53,335.
(This figure included children in institutions for people with disabilities, units specialising in dystrophic patients, neuro-psycho-motor recovery and rehabilitation, or for children infected with HIV/AIDS as well as units protecting children in a residential system within special education institutions.)
However, in November 2001, the European Commission, in its report on Romania's progress towards accession, reported that of 129,296 children in need of special protection, nearly 78,000 were living in residential care.
(Romanian National Authority for Child Protection - 31 of August, 2004)
Number of children residing with substitute families or in institutions
Total 81,233 out of which,
Children protected in substitute families 49,180
Psychological damage & developmental delay
Imagine what it could be like to be brought up in an institution in Romania in the worst circumstances. You could be cold and bored, with meagre and unvarying meals, bleak mealtime experiences fighting for food or your bottle propped up in a cot.
You had nobody to call your own, to look forward to seeing, to love and hold you. The strict regimentation left no time for personal attention or affection and there was very little colour or variety.
This could be made even worse by disability, illness or abuse.
You may have often had sores and infestations.
Psychological damage suffered in this type of institution is deep-rooted and more difficult to address than physical effects. Many orphans are far from recovering psychologically. This lack of human contact, colour, variety, stimulation, understanding and concern almost always leads to developmental delay.
The problem was made worse by a lack of proper assessment. Abandoned and traumatised children were lumped together in the same programme, or non-programme, of care as those with severe disability.
Our specialist colleagues now tell us, in fact, that it is an advantage for disabled and able children to be in contact with one another, as long as their care and educational programs are tailored to their needs.
Physical punishment was and perhaps still is practiced in some institutions. This can have a terrible effect on the character of the future adult, known as moral madness in Romania.
However, let's not forget
that up to the middle of the 20th century, a similar situation existed in Britain,
where single mothers, for example, could be housed in long-stay institutions for
years with a diagnosis of "moral handicap".
Are things improving?
Some policies that led to this situation have been totally eliminated (such as the forced population policy and lack of contraception) which led to the abandonment of children through poverty.
Other factors - like lack of training for care givers and attitudes to disability and the present poverty produced by the transition to a market economy - are now on the government's agenda as well as serious reform at the heart of child care in Romania.
So yes, things will improve but not immediately and not for all.
The Romanian Government had invested too little to improve the situation until recently. Solutions over the past ten years were patchy and tended to focus on foreign adoption.
a typical approach to dealing with the orphanage problem is to close the institutions and return the children to their families.
The problem with this is that there is very little support in place to ensure the huge changes in the children's lives go smoothly.
There may be many lengthy consultants' reports detailing elaborate management systems which the politicians can use to cover their backs with.
However the reality on the ground is that the few systems that are in place to protect the children are wholly inadequate. We're hearing of social workers who have no petrol to visit isolated destitute villages. These are the type of places where over 70% of the returned children will be sent.
We are lobbying to ensure that proper measures are taken to avoid thousands of little catastrophes.
Click here to see our proposal to help deal with this problem.
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