Our Mentorship Programme: Studying Alternative Care Services to DI in Romania

At the end of September 2014, through its Mentorship Programme, ChildPact and its partners (FONPC, World Vision Romania and SOS Children’s Villages) welcomed to Bucharest four young professionals: Lilit from Armenia, Teona from Georgia, Valentina from Moldova and Elmir from Azerbaijan. They were all looking forward to learn about new practices in the field of child protection and welfare and to understand the challenges faced by the reform process undergone by the Romanian care system. Lessons learnt, trial-and-error stories, exchange of good practices, innovative alternative care services – best summarise the experienced lived by of the four mentees during their five-day stay in Romania.

The first day of the mentorship programme aimed to introduce the mentees to the current Romanian child protection system and to the challenges that shaped it in the last 25 years and equip the mentees with some story-telling tools they could use to accumulate and then disseminate their newly acquired know-how. Andy Guth, ChildPact expert and former director of an orphanage in the early ‘90s, showed that in 1989 in Romania there were close to 100.000 children living in institutions where children were abused beyond imagination. He talked about the child protection system reform process in Romania, highlighting some of the complex challenges that the deinstitutionalisation processes. Immediately afterwards, Cristi Lupşa, founder and editor of the best Romanian story-telling magazine, talked to the trainees about how and why social activism should have a story at its very core, as stories can transmit emotion and emotion leads to action. A well-told story can create an extra-factual connexion among the story-teller and his/her audience, as a story represents an opened floor for common understanding of even the most complicated and specialised professional issues – such as what deinstitutionalisation means or what alternative care involves.

For the following days, the four mentees were split in two groups and assigned to a mentoring organisation: Valentina and Elmir were mentored by World Vision Romania; and Lilit and Teona were mentored by SOS Children’s Villages Romania. During three intense days, each of them learned about various alternative care placements to deinstitutionalisation (day care centres, small group family-homes and social apartments) and innovative programmes for enhancing children’s welfare(after school programmes, parents’ associations, personal development clubs).

What has mostly impressed our mentees?

One of the things that impressed me most during the visit, was the selfless dedication and high professionalism of the experts and practitioners in child protection sphere. Many of the changes in the system were triggered because these experts did every possible thing in their power to stop the unfair treatment towards children and protect their rights.” Lilit

I’ve also felt that maybe this is my personal mission for the future: help other overcome their life background – help care-leavers to properly be reintegrated in the society they belong to! Although before coming to Bucharest I knew I wanted to continue to build my career in the child welfare field, I knew less about what particularities I could bring or which path I should choose in order to offer other my very best contribution. Now I know it very clearly: empowering and supporting young adults, care-leavers and advocate for their rights in society is an important task that I wish to overtake.” Teona

By the end of the Mentorship Programme I felt very inspired by the efforts of all the professionals I met and by their determination to make life better for children. One of the most interesting services we were presented was the after school project, designed and implemented by World Vision Romania. The main purpose of the after school programme is to support children from vulnerable families in their study and to avoid school drop-out.” Elmir

I am looking forward to sharing with my team (Moldavian NGO “Child, Community and Family”) what I’ve learned, what impressed me and what could be transferrable in our national context. As such, my mind is particularly set on the after school programme whose purpose, organisation and results have amazed me. Similar good work could be done in Moldova, too!” Valentina

ChildPact’s Mentorship Programme was an activity in the framework of the “Together for Children: Stronger Coalitions in the Wider Black Sea Area” project, financed by the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through the Official Development Assistance Unit, with UNDP Bratislava Regional Centre as implementation partner.