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Greece intends to separate children in homes by gender and age

11 December 2014 / 19:12:12  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

This year the well-known non-governmental child protection organization "The Smile of the Child" marks 20 years of activity, a major part of it being the homes for children where 755 children have grown up.

Under a recently issued decision of the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Welfare, however, it will have to completely change its successful model of childcare. "According to the decision, childrens homes have to change, the main requirement being that children be separated by gender and age. Not to break the law, "The Smile of the Child" must move 35 children from 11 homes," said its chairman Kostas Giannopoulos.

He explained with agitation that the decision in question aims to close the non-governmental child protection organizations, including "The Smile of the Child", the SOS villages, and many more. "It is inconceivable how it introduces the model of institutionalization of children, although we are aware of its serious effects on their psyche. This way of functioning of homes has been rejected throughout the world and certainly it cannot be a solution," added Giannopoulos, appealing to the Secretary General of the Ministry who is the instigator of the decision to withdraw it.

The same request is made by the young people who have grown up in the homes of the organization and have already made their way in life. "The Smile of the Child" is a family, it is not just a childrens home," they firmly state.

There are 14 homes functioning under the "The Smile of the Child", which are located in different regions of Greece. The organization calls them "houses" because the daily life of children is organized so that they feel the same way as they would feel at their own home.

11 of the houses are the only home known by those children who have grown up there. Children of different ages and gender live in them, and in the majority of the cases, some of them are biological siblings. Separating such children and sending them to different homes takes place only in exceptional circumstances and only if it is in their favour.

As stated by social worker Hara Grosdani, the children are entrusted to the care of "The Smile of the Child" under the prosecutor's orders and judgments, and in the majority of the cases, their life had been in jeopardy.

"Our contacts with those children begin almost as soon as we receive information to accept them. Once we realize that we can take care of a child, a representative of the house where he or she will be accommodated visits him or her at the hospital that has admitted the child to check his or her health condition. It is very important that the child knows the person whose hand will hold him/her to take him/her to his/her new home," she said, speaking about the daily round in the houses.

Children wake up and get dressed, go to the kitchen to have breakfast and help in the preparation of breakfast if they want. Then they go to school and come back for lunch, prepare for the next day and have additional foreign language lessons and other extra-curricular activities and sports. After dinner, the children, social workers and volunteers of the organization who are involved in their raising, comment on the past day and other issues, like a true family.

"We pay particular attention to the things that children bring with them when they come to us. We keep them, whatever their condition is, because they are part of the past that the children themselves have decided to keep," said Grosdani.

The aim of the organization is to return the children to their biological family; therefore, whenever possible, they meet with their parents to prepare for this process. For the majority of the children, however, "The Smile of the Child" remains the only home to which they return when they grow up and leave to go studying or working.

A social worker plays the role of coordinator in all houses and a psychologist, pedagogue, teacher and medical worker take part in the process of childcare. A cook prepares the food, a cleaner cleans the premises and a driver is available as well.

It is worth noting that the members of the staff prepare a separate plan for the protection and development of each child in consistency with his/her abilities and interests. Furthermore, the houses are located in urban areas and do not differ from other buildings. Children attend school outside their homes.

The other three houses of "The Smile of the Child" are homes for day stay and care for children from families with serious problems. "What we do every day is to pick up the children from school at 3:00 pm. Then we take them to the houses where they have lunch. The parents of those children are not able to provide them even with a hot meal. Then, with the help of our teacher, they prepare the lessons for the next day, establish contact with other children and bring them to their homes in the evening. We also take care of them having clean clothes as well as for their health and vaccinations. At the same time we work with their families, providing them with every kind of support to help them," said Grosdani.

Currently 363 children are growing up in the houses of "The Smile of the Child".

Tags: SocietyThe Smile of the ChildHomes for childrenInstitutionalization of childrenMinisterial decision
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