Maksym – Ukraine


Maksym is 16 years old and has spent most of his life trapped in Ukraine’s vast and loveless network of children’s institutions. Maksym’s mother couldn’t cope with raising her children in poverty and so, when he was three, he was sent to live in an orphanage.

Life there was especially tough for Maksym who had been born with an eye disorder. The other children teased him and he responded with his fists. The only support this lonely little boy had was his older sister, Anya, who has been sent to live in the same institution.

Soon, Maksym had a reputation as a trouble maker and so he was deliberately misdiagnosed as having a “mild mental retardation”. This gave the authorities the excuse they needed to send him to a specialist boarding school, in a remote area some 100 kilometers away. No one asked Maksym if he wanted to go; he wasn’t even allowed to say good bye to Anya.

At first Maksym was defiant – he cried, begged to see his sister; he refused to eat or speak but eventually, he was forced to come to terms with his situation and make the best of things.

After eight years Maksym was transferred to another specialist institution, in yet another part of the country. Again, no one warned him about the move, explained the reason for the decision or allowed him to say good bye to his friends.

Throughout his childhood, Maksym suffered repeated ear infections. He tried to tell the staff in the institutions about the pain but they ignored him and so he stopped complaining. As a result, he almost lost his hearing.

In all, Maksym spent 13 years surviving in a system where no one cared for him as an individual, where no one cared for him at all.

When Hope and Homes for Children began work to close the last facility where Maksym lived, we had to fight hard to guarantee him a better future. Because of his age and his false diagnosis, the authorities wanted to send him on down the line to an adult institution. Maksym was at risk of spending his entire life, trapped in the system, and we were determined not to let that happen.

Instead, we made sure that Maksym was able to move to one of our Small Family-Group Homes. These are houses we build to care for children from orphanages who cannot be reunited with their birth families or matched with foster parents. Often, this is because of their age or because they have special needs.

So today Maksym lives in an ordinary domestic house, in a residential part of town where he is part of the local community. He shares his new home with a small group of other children and adult carers. For the first time in his life, he has his own space, his own clothes and his own possessions. None of these things were allowed in the institutions.

Maksym has already had two operations to correct the problems with his eye and his ears and he is preparing for a third. His dream, to no longer feel ashamed of his face, will finally come true. Maksym has also had his false diagnosis overturned so now he can attend a mainstream school. His ambition is to design and make shoes.

Most importantly of all, we have managed to reunite Maksym with Anya. So this year, at last, he will spend Christmas in a home where he is cared for and respected as an individual, with a sister to love him.

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

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.”