In the future I would like to open a museum of orphanages.
As a social worker I see just how horrible orphanages are every day, every month, the whole year round. Whenever I set foot in one of those buildings there are one or two things that stand out, that hit me because they are poignant little symbols.
So from each institution we close I would take those things, gather them up and open a museum for everyone to see the ragged clothes, tiny chairs, cribs, potties. Then when the last orphanage closes its doors we could look back and remember and make sure society never allows one to be opened again.
The very existence of an institution is an abuse. It’s large, it’s dark, it’s unfriendly.
There are huge, crowded bedrooms, packed with bunkbeds. The children don’t own photos, possessions or clothes of their own and in most of them there are no toys. There is almost always a huge TV of course, that’s the staff’s main way of pacifying the children.
The people who should take care of the children mostly ignore them or offer them just the basics like food and shelter and that’s it. Not enough stimulation, not enough care, not enough love, not enough cuddles. So many not enoughs.
I’m proud to say I close down orphanages. My daily job is complex but deep down, through my every cell I am a social worker and I love working with people, especially vulnerable children and adults.
I work with young care leavers who are very vulnerable and often have no experience of the world, trying to teach them independence and how to be an adult. I also work with children who we have returned home to their families from institutions or placed in foster or adoptive families. That can be so challenging for a child, to readapt to a new environment, to start loving your family again or to start loving your new family.
I work directly with families helping them to stay together. So many of the families I work with lack access to basic welfare services and live in poverty. Being poor doesn’t mean you aren’t a good parent, it just means you need support in order to provide for your child.
One of the families that sticks in my mind and keeps me motivated is the Tataru family. I still visit and keep in touch with them even though we’ve finished our intervention with them. Claudia has nine children and one day she came to us asking for help. She just wanted food but after our initial assessment we realised there were so many issues and we began working with her to solve them.
For example, Bucur who was about 18months old could not walk because he was born with deformed legs. He needed special shoes, massage treatment and kinesiotherapy. Claudia was despairing and said “I can’t do anything for him, he’s going to be crippled for life and end up using a wheelchair.” But I reassured her:“You CAN do it, I know you have many children at home and it’s very difficult. But I’m going to give you the money for treatment, the money to travel, I’m going to give you the money for shoes, everything that’s needed.”
And now Bucur is walking. And he’s running.
We’ve managed to get Claudia a job, and then more recently we helped her partner, Mircea, find a job. That family’s life isn’t perfect but they are doing brilliantly. They are smiling, happy. That family is just wonderful.
When I think of the future I’m filled with hope. It seemed like a science fiction story when 16 years ago I first heard about Hope and Homes for Children working with the government to close down orphanages and keep children in families.
Back then it was unheard of, but now it is happening.
Ileana Cirt's article was orignally printed in Hope and Homes for Children's newsletter Hope News, January 15, 2016.
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