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The Heart of a Child

This case study was originally publised at the Global Optimist

Background and aims

The Heart of a Child Foundation was established in 1996 by a group of Romanian volunteers seeking to help children and young people abandoned in hospitals and living on the street. Although they had little formal training or support the volunteers pooled their skills and resources together to set up the Foundation. At the beginning street children were brought in to stay in a rented apartment.  After a while the volunteers also began to care for children with HIV/AIDS that had been virtually abandoned, hidden in the wards of state hospitals.

In time Heart of a Child’s vision of providing dignified and respectful care to the forgotten young people in Romania continued to blossom into reality and the numbers of youth in their care grew each year. Today the Heart of a Child Foundation is more than a decade old and has developed into a professional organisation serving a broad range of children and youth interests. 

The Innovation

Amongst the many projects and programmes for disadvantaged youth in Romania are the Foundation’s projects aimed at deinstitutionalising children and youth with severe disabilities. These projects were set up to enable young people with severe disabilities to leave state institutions where they are often abandoned for years, neglected and do not receive the care they need. Heart of a Child is the only permanent care providers for individuals with severe disabilities in the region.

The Foundation’s model of care has got a high impact on the provision of social services. The authorities lack the capacity to provide young people with severe disabilities with adequate care to ensure their personal development and quality of life. The Foundation’s work demonstrates the possibility to ensure access to community care services for these young people, with low costs and better results than institutionalisation.

Key Ingredients

The young people are either reunited with their families, placed with professional maternal assistants, foster families or placed in protected apartments run by the Foundation. Where the young people are reunited with their families or are placed in foster care, their families receive support and guidance from Heart of a Child. The staff designs and initiates daily therapeutic activities for the youth who require permanent care and supervision.  These activities include a strict daily schedule which enables the young people to practice self-care skills and promotes communication and social interaction with staff. Individually tailored training programs also include activities like trips to the store and interaction with neighbours.

When the young people come in to Heart of a Child’s care its staffs performs an initial analysis of the person’s skills and abilities in various areas of development. This enables them to track the development of the person’s progress in areas such as personal hygiene, feeding habits, illness prevention, physical recovery, space-time orientation, socialising and speech and communication skills. Heart of a Child also offers an art therapy programme which strives to develop basic motor skills. Monthly socialisation activities are also organised, including birthday celebrations, participation in local community events, walks and games in the park and summer camps.

Challenges

With Romania’s recent accession into the European Union, it is increasingly difficult for organisations like Heart of a Child to access consistent sources of funding. It therefore continues to rely heavily upon the support of foreign and domestic volunteers, individual donors and businesses in order to ensure its beneficiaries continue to receive quality care.

Looking forward

In the future the Foundation hopes to expand its ability to care for severely disabled young people by identifying permanent foster care families for many of its highest-functioning residents, to prevent child abandonment and school dropouts,to help the youth from Heart of a Child houses to find jobs and permanent places to live, to create sustainable, economically-sound working places for children and youth with disabilities, to create a permanent Day Center for children from poor families and to continue helping children, youth and families not only from Romania but from other poor countries in the world.