Sena – Bosnia and Herzegovina


Seeing Sena Dedic at home with her mother, Esma, it’s very hard to believe they haven’t always been together. There’s so much love and affection between the two of them. The small house they share on the outskirts of a city in the North of Bosnia and Herzegovina is full of warmth, both physical and emotional.

But Sena spent the first four years of her life in the city’s orphanage – a huge, loveless institution where she was just one child among many. Even as a tiny baby, she had no one to care for her above all the others, to cuddle her, to comfort her or to play with her.

When Sena was born, Esma was alone and desperate. Her life had always been tough. Her father was killed in the Bosnian war and the rest of her family fled the country to escape the fighting. Esma was a refugee in her own country, a young woman with no one to support or guide her. She became pregnant at the very start of a new relationship and was frightened to tell Sena’s father. She thought he would not want her to keep the baby so she broke up with him and continued with her pregnancy alone. Fifteen days after giving birth, with nowhere to live and no income, Esma felt she had no choice but to take Sena to the orphanage and leave her there.

Just like Sena, most children who grow up in orphanages are not orphans at all. They have families who would and could care for them if they had the means to do so. That’s why, whenever possible, our partners in Bosnia and Herzegovina try to reintegrate children from institutions with their birth families and give them the support they need to stay together.

We first met Sena when we began work to close the orphanage where she lived. She was four years old by then, a withdrawn little girl who was still wearing nappies because no one had taken the time or trouble to teach her to use the toilet by herself.

Working with our partners in the local child protection department, we made contact with Esma to see if it might be possible to reunite her with her daughter. By then Esma’s situation had improved a great deal. She was in a steady relationship with a caring, hard-working man called Anto. They were living together in the small house he owned and Esma had occasional work as a cleaner.

Esma wanted very much to bring Sena home and Anto was happy to support her decision. The reintegration process took several months. We helped Sena, Esma and Anto to establish secure relationships with each other. We also enrolled Sena in a local nursery so that Esma could continue to work to provide for her daughter. Once Sena left the orphanage to join Esma and Anto, we continued to monitor the family’s progress to make sure that Sena was happy and that Esma and Anto were coping in their new role as parents.

It was only once Sena was safely home that Esma felt able to reveal that Anto was in fact Sena’s biological father.  “When Esma told me that I am Sena’s father I felt hurt because she kept that from me for a long time”, Anto says “but at the same time it was the happiest moment of my life”.  When Sena calls Anto “Babo” (daddy), it’s obvious to everyone how proud he is.

Anisija Radenkovic, Hope and Homes for Children Country Director in Bosnia and Herzegovina, remembers the first time she met Sena.

“She was very quiet and rarely smiled but since she has returned to her family, she has blossomed. To me, Sena is proof that what children need to be happy is not fortune, but love” says Anisija.

Sena is seven now and has just started school. She likes to play with her puppy and help her mother around the house and in the garden. She’s a happy, much-loved little girl with a real home and a family of her own.


Sorin – Moldova


Sorin’s mother Marie spent much of her childhood in the Chisinau Institution for Babies and when Sorin was born, the cycle threatened to repeat itself.

Marie could not find work to support herself and had no way of paying rent. Like many young people who grow up in institutions, Marie also had no ID and could not therefore claim any social support. With little experience of family life and faced with being a single mother with no job and nowhere to live, a desperate, pregnant Marie was ready to abandon Sorin at birth.

The difference for Marie and Sorin was a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) set up in the grounds of the institution where Sorin would likely have been placed. Local NGO CCF Moldova secured Marie a place there when she was eight months pregnant and from there she had access to all of the services she needed to become self-reliant.

Marie and Sorin stayed in the Mother and Baby Unit for six months after his birth during which time Marie was supported to become properly registered. She began receiving her social allowance, had access to psychological support and support to find work as a secretary in a local school.

When the time came for Sorin and Marie to leave the Mother and Baby Unit, Sorin was enrolled in a nursery set up, as one of the alternative services to support vulnerable families in Chisinau.

At 12 months old, Sorin is a confident, playful little boy with a happy and secure home life.

Petia – Bulgaria


Petia was born prematurely, weighing less than 5 pounds, and with a genetic condition affecting her hands. She was very unwell and at risk of abandonment because her parents were struggling to care for her.

Both from Roma and Eastern Orthodox Christian families, Petia’s parents Margarita and Naum were abandoned as children and led disrupted family lives. As a child Margarita was diagnosed with a hereditary condition leading to muscular dystrophy which means she has difficulty with movement and balance as an adult.

The family were referred to an NGO in Bulgaria for support – a referral which probably saved Petia’s life.

Margarita and two-week-old Petia were both unwell when social workers visited the family at their home, a three room house belonging to an uncle who works in Greece. Margarita was suffering with a severe cold and Petia had a very high temperature. She was being looked after by a neighbour, Polina, who reported that she had been very unwell in the previous few days. Both mother and baby were admitted to hospital with Petia in a critical condition. There she was diagnosed with a respiratory problem – bilateral broncho-pneumonia – and a suspected heart problem. Thankfully, the medical team was able to stabilise her.

Two weeks later, Petia and Margarita were discharged and placed together in an Emergency Reception Centre where they could receive the support they needed. Naum visited them as often as possible when he wasn’t labouring on a farm where he had casual work.

In addition to ensuring Petia’s health and wellbeing and providing material support both parents received support to understand how to care for their child, building their confidence so they do not feel the best course of action is to abandon her in an institution. Naum’s grandmother is living in the neighbourhood and is supporting the family to care for Petia.

Margarita was supported to access a disability pension for herself as well as a maternity and child allowance. The family were also supported with budgeting skills to ensure they are able to provide for themselves with their small income.

Georgi – Bulgaria


Katya visted her son Georgi at every opportunity when he was in an institution for babies. She had been persuaded to give him up at birth because she and her husband had no regular income and four other children to care for. They were told they would be able to take him back after a few months but, with no services to support families available to them, their situation didn’t improve and it looked likely that Georgi would remain in institutional care long term.

At twelve months old however, Georgi came back to live with his parents and four brothers thanks to a family support service run by a local NGO.

The cost of Georgi growing up with his family rather than in institutional care was some repairs to the family home, some clothes and a few essential baby items such as a bed for Georgi, a buggy and a potty.

Georgi returned visibly damaged by his time in the institution. He was a frightened, withdrawn, sad little boy having spent most of his life alone in a cot without any love, affection or sense of security. Back in his family he is beginning to recover and learning to feel secure in his family.

Bojan – Bosnia & Herzegovina


Bojan met his partner Asya when they both lived in the Dom Porodica Institution. Since they have left they have had a baby girl, Emili, who lives with them in Zenica.

Bojan and his two younger siblings were placed in the institution in 2004 when Bojan was 14. Their father abandoned the family and moved abroad and there was no one else to look after them. His mother had abandoned the family a few years earlier.

Bojan is from a Roma family that had moved around a lot and upon arrival in the institution it was clear that none of the children had been to school but were all keen to learn.

Despite the resourcefulness they had learnt as children, like many young adults leaving care, Bojan found it difficult to adjust to independent life.

“Life after the orphanage was hard. I was lost. I had no job and no papers.”

Many young adults leave institutions at 18 years old with poor educational achievement and a lack of life skills meaning it is hard for them to find a job and the cycle of poverty and disadvantage that resulted in them being institutionalised is perpetuated. Young adult support services help them develop key life skills, support them to find work and help them to adjust to life in a family when they have their own children – preventing them from turning to institutions.

The prospect of fatherhood came as a shock to Bojan who had never had to be responsible for anyone but himself. He found it difficult to accept at first and shied away from the responsibility. As well as helping Bojan find a job to support his family, the service run by an NGO helped him to understand his responsibilities and navigate family life.

“For me, I didn’t have much family, but now I am a parent I need to save this family and give us a better future. For me it’s the most important thing.”