New IOCC Project Helps Romania’s Abandoned Children

Bucharest (May 2, 2002) — The focus of worldwide media attention, Romania’s abandoned children often end up on the streets or in inhumane institutions. But a growing reform movement, supported by International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and other organizations, is changing that.

IOCC, the official humanitarian aid agency of Orthodox Christians, was recently awarded a $200,000 contract to implement an innovative child welfare reform program in about 20 communities in southwest Romania.

“The two-year program aims to reduce the likelihood of child abandonment and the number of children in institutions,” said Samir Ishak, IOCC director of operations.

“The most affected portion of the population are families with many children who are confronted with the daily struggle to survive,” Ishak said.

With its partner, the Romanian Orthodox Church, IOCC will work to identify and support at-risk families through a variety of community-based services, reintegrate children with their natural families, create alternatives to institutionalization and establish a child “safety net” of trained mentors, counselors and social workers.

Total cost of the project is $335,000, with $135,000 coming from IOCC, the Romanian Orthodox Church and Romanian county governments. According to Nicholas Chakos, project coordinator for IOCC’s office in Bucharest, child abandonment in Romania is largely the result of economic hardship and the perceived inability of families to care for their children. Only a small fraction of abandoned children are orphans: 84 percent have at least one living parent and 60 percent have two.

Since the fall of the Ceausescu regime in 1989, thousands of Romanian children either have been abandoned by their families or run away from state-run institutions — consigned to lives of misery and squalor on the streets.

IOCC’s program will include a public awareness campaign designed to change attitudes about child institutionalization, improve the knowledge of community-based services and increase support for children and families.

The IOCC initiative is part of the larger ChildNet program, sponsored by World Learning, a U.S.-based organization, and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. IOCC and the Romanian Orthodox Church are partners with World Learning and USAID in the project.

That partnership will be carried out in three Romanian counties: Dolj, Gorj and Mehedinti. In all three counties, the goal of the program is to reduce the number of institutionalized children by 50 percent and the number of children entering institutions by 70 percent.

“These areas are some of the most gravely affected by Romania’s political, social and economic transition … and the collapse of the mining industry,” Chakos said.

In Mehedinti County, IOCC will work with the Roma community in the town of Punghina, which has a high rate of child abandonment. There, IOCC seeks to reduce the number of child abandonment cases by 90 percent by opening a day care center, assisting Roma families with childcare skills and creating support networks of volunteers and mentors.

“Priority will always be given to returning the child back to its mother,” Chakos said. “In cases in which this is not possible, reintegration of the child to the extended family will be pursued.”

Other aspects of the program include:

  • Creating volunteer assistance programs such as “Mentor Mothers” and “Parent for a Day.”
    Enlisting hospital chaplains and other authorities to help identify women who are at-risk of abandoning their children.
  • Providing material assistance, such as food, utility payment and medical necessities, to at-risk mothers.
  • Offering counseling services to families and individuals.

IOCC will establish three regional offices to coordinate the program and will hire, train and supervise child welfare specialists to staff each of the offices. IOCC also will work closely with county health departments and departments of child protection to identify at-risk families and children.

On the national level, IOCC will coordinate a public awareness campaign in cooperation with the Romanian Orthodox Church, its official partner for social assistance issues.

Founded in 1992, IOCC opened an office in Bucharest two years ago. Romania is one of several Balkan countries where IOCC is doing relief and development work. For more information, visit www.iocc.org.

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