Nicolai – Moldova

Nicolai loves to play with his dogs and having pets to care for has helped him to overcome a very difficult time in his life.

In March 2017, a fire destroyed his family’s home. Nicolai, his mother Aliona, his older brother, Vasile and his baby brother, Andrei who is just ten months old, were lucky to escape with their lives. Aliona, who was already struggling to cope with raising her children alone, did not know where to turn. Nicolai and his brothers were at risk of being separated from their mother and each other and sent to live in different orphanages.

There they would have been segregated by age and left to grow up barely knowing one another. Nicolai and his siblings would have had no one to love and protect them, struggling to survive alongside so many other children confined to institutions —  neglected, frightened and alone.

Our national coordinator in Moldova, CCF Moldova ensured that the family received the support they needed to stay together while their house was repaired. Now the family is thriving. Aliona has found work as an accountant, Vasile has graduated from secondary school and is studying cookery and hairdressing. Nicolai is being home schooled with good results and baby Andrei has started nursery.

Azra – Bosnia and Herzegovina


Azra is a happy, high-spirited little girl who lives with her mother, Alma, in a village in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “Azra loves songs, she loves you to talk to her – she needs a lot of attention!” Alma says. Alma is only 19 but she knows what it takes to be a good mother. She is warm and attentive and clearly loves her daughter very much. “Azra is beautiful, her smile is perfect!” Alma says.

But Azra’s childhood could have been very different. Her father died in a mining accident shortly before she was born. Alma was alone, with nowhere to live and no income. The only relative who could offer any support was her elderly grandmother. Alma was afraid that she might have no choice but to allow her daughter to be raised in an orphanage, without any of the love and attention that Azra so clearly thrives on today.

Orphanages do not protect children, they harm them. This is especially true for babies.  Reliable research suggests that every three months spent in an orphanage before the age of three, stunts a child’s physical and cognitive development by one month. After six months, this damage may be irreversible. To develop as they should, babies need the dedicated care and attention of a parent-figure and no institution can ever provide this.

That’s why, before Azra was born, our team in Bosnia and Herzegovina worked with Alma to give her the support and encouragement she needed to keep her baby.

We helped to arrange a place for Azra and Alma at a local Mother and Baby Unit, a service developed by Hope and Homes for Children – the National Coordinator of the Opening Doors for Europe’s Children in Bosnia and Herzegovina –  to help vulnerable mothers and babies to stay together. The staff at the Unit made sure that Alma and Azra had the help and advice they needed to make a good start in life together. Living in the Mother and Baby Unit was not easy for a teenager. Alma missed her friends but our team were impressed by the way that Alma cared for Azra. Despite the challenges, she was determined to do her best for her daughter.

Eighteen months on, and Alma and Azra are doing well. They have left the Unit and moved in with Alma’s grandmother. Life as a single mother is never easy but while she was in the Mother and Baby Unit Alma completed a diploma in hairdressing and she works part-time to help to provide for her daughter.

“Azra is my life,” Alma says. “I want to protect her and to protect her future.”


Hugo – Spain


Hugo[1] was a smart and talented youngster who did not have any behavioural problems. He used to get good grades in school and enjoyed being friends with many of his classmates. He was always involved in various after-school activities.

On his way to adolescence, Hugo found out that his parents were getting divorced. The long and painful divorce process meant that there were constant arguments between his parents who were projecting their anger and frustration on Hugo.

Hugo left school, he started to stay late at night while catching up on his sleep during the day. He changed his circle of friends and began to break the rules, both in school and in his everyday life. He was injuring himself all the time, without any feelings of guilt. He drank a lot and had a few fights on the street during that period. He was heading towards separation with his family, and the outlook of getting placed in an institution was close on the horizon.

A family preservation service got in touch with Hugo and his parents. They started individual work with Hugo’s parents on increasing their parental capacity, analysing and trying to reverse the conflict situation between them. At the same time, the family social worker worked with Hugo on building his skills needed for transition towards the independent living, increasing his self-esteem and autonomy.

After two years of intense work, his parents were getting on better, and the relationship between them and Hugo have drastically improved. Hugo took up his studies and started doing professional sport. Regular training sessions during the week meant that the street fights have stopped completely for Hugo. Recently, he entered competition as a professional wrestler and is preparing for the pre-college exam.

Last but not least – he was never placed in an institution.

[1] For child protection reasons, the name has been changed

Alya – Bulgaria

Seven months into pregnancy, Alya’s then parents-to-be have realised that she would have facial anomaly after birth – cleft lip and cleft palate. „The next minute after Alya was born, and the midwives passed the baby to me, I was terrified: she was all covered in blood with a huge hole looming on her face,” recalls Alya’s Mum. “And the first words that I heard from staff were “Wow, it is a baby with the cleft palate.” Although we have been aware of our daughter’s facial deformities before birth, the lack of understanding from personnel of the hospital after her birth was the first reality slap. I was scared and anxious when I saw Alya, and I cried a lot. Nobody told me anything, there was a total lack of support,”  add’s Alya’s mother.

After being discharged from maternity hospital, without parents knowing, the girl was transferred to the Home for Medico-Social Care for Children. When the social services called her father to sign an order for accommodation, he denied. It was the doctors’ opinion that the mother could not provide appropriate care for her daughter, and that she will not be able to cope with feeding the baby which will put the girl’s life in danger. After Alya’s placement in a Home for Medico-Social Care for Children, the Center for early intervention was contacted by the project coordinator “Direction Family” with request to arrange consultation for Alya’s parents. Meeting the manager of the Center has encouraged and reassured Alya’s parents of their parental capacity to care for little Alya at home, in a supportive and caring family environment. The Centre has also offered professional support by the team of experts in the Centre.  With the help of local NGO, parents contacted Association of patients with inborn facial anomaly who work towards prevention of abandonment of children with facial anomaly and improving the quality of treatment for these children.  Alya had an operation and after successful recovery she now eats normally.

Alya’s story shows that the early intervention is essential in prevention of children’s separation from their parents. It starts with informing about the child disability and continues with psychological and emotional support to parents immediately after the birth. Understanding and acceptance of the child’s diversity, as well as supporting the notion that children should grow up with their own homes, not in children’s homes, is crucial to it.


Vira – Ukraine


The story of Vira’s life is a classic tragedy of small Ukrainian towns and villages. A single woman with 5 children, an alcoholic partner who was always violent to Vira and children, and Vira herself – trying to seek salvation from a brutal reality with alcohol.

The social worker in the village could only monitor the situation and support the woman with advice. But the situation became increasingly worse, and social services were going to remove children from the family.

Exactly at this critical moment, the centre of social support – established as part of a local deinstitutionalisation project – came to the assistance of Vira and her children.

Vira came to the centre all covered in bruises, with floods of tears due to frustration and pain. She and her children were scared and haunted by constant beatings and humiliation. The woman was immediately placed in a separate room in the mother and baby unit. Here, she and her children could feel safe for the first time in several years.

First of all, social workers of the center organized the treatment of children who had mental health problems stemming from the abuse, enuresis, night terrors and developmental delay. One of the children had tuberculosis, and a few days of delay could have been fatal for a child.

It was an extremely painful process for Vira to break up her traumatic relationship between her and her dangerous partner. Only after a lengthy persuasion, she could write a statement to the police about abuse and injuries. Unfortunately, in Ukraine cases of domestic violence rarely reach court. A guilty verdict is given to the abusers in even fewer instances. It was not surprising that the forensic examination did not find the injuries so easily and the state investigator urged the woman to withdraw the statement. However, due to the unwavering position of social workers in the centre, the case was brought to court and the offender was held accountable. It was for the first time in the local area when domestic violence was not only detected but also punished.

Social workers have also managed to find Vira’s mother who lived together with the eldest Vira’s daughter in another village. Vira’s mother and Vira did not communicate with each other for many years. However, little by little, the two women began to have contact with each other. Vira told her mother about grandchildren, shared joys and concerns, supported her mother and received support in return. The women have decided very soon that Vira should move to live in the village with her mother. Social workers from the centre visited the village, met its Mayor and asked for his assistance.  The head of the village was sceptical to begin with, but promised Vira some help with job an accomodation. A few weeks later the mayor told us enthusiastically:

“I have never believed in such transformations. I remember Vira from before. Now I can see a confident woman who wants to stay with her children. And she does her best for this. I promise to help her with everything as much as I can”.

It didn’t come as a surprise because thanks to the centre of social support, Vira has recovered from her alcoholism, has got a job and receives welfare benefits to support her children as a single mother. Vira rents a house near the school and kindergarten that her children attend. She has made some repairs to the new home and all the children now live with her including a daughter who was previously living with Vira’s mother. The family has a small domestic farm and takes care of it together. |Recently Vira called the centre and told about her new life and those dramatic changes that have happened to her and her children. On the phone, she was constantly repeating:

“I’m so happy! Even my older daughter who lived away from me for 9 years returned, we are happily living together now!”

Vira, of course, will still be looking for support and protection for some time, as she only starts her life without violence, and she often feels insecure. But we are convinced that we laid a solid foundation, and Vira will build on a prosperous future for herself and her children. She is not alone in her struggle: in addition to support from the social services, Vira can always rely on her mother or ask her fellow villagers for help  – they no longer perceive her as an alcoholic woman with multiple children. They are prepared to step in and support Vira establishing her way in their  community.


Valeria – Moldova


Valeria is three years old and loves playing with her big sisters, Marinela who is seven and Natalia who is six.

The girls live with their parents on the outskirts of Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. Their home is very simple but it’s safe, warm and dry. Two years ago, when our partner local NGO in Moldova first met Valeria and her family, they were living in a cramped, rusting bus that they’d turned into a makeshift house.

When the local authorities became aware of the family’s situation, they wanted to separate Valeria and her sisters from their parents and send them to an institution where they would have been left to survive without the love and individual attention that is so fundamental to the well-being of all children.

Our Moldovan partners stepped in to help Valeria parents’ access vital social benefits to care for their girls. They raised funds locally to help the family buy construction materials to build a proper house, as well as some chickens and ducks to provide food and an additional source of income.

As well as completing programme to close the main institution for babies and young children in Chisinau by finding safe, alternative family-based care for all the children who live there, our colleagues in Moldova work to provide a range of support services for vulnerable families to stop further babies and young children from being admitted to institutions that threaten their development, their well-being and their life chances.