All children are entitled to shelter, safety, and protection from social and economic hardship. However, to this day, deprived children living in abject poverty, remain part of our everyday reality. This is also true for Eastern Europe, where children are among the weakest members of society, unable to protect themselves from the downsides of social change in the context of post-communist transformation. In Ukraine, child deprivation has become a huge and growing challenge and has reached proportions that can undermine the future prospects of social stability for the country and its neighbors.
With Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the standard of living initially dropped, families broke up and were driven apart. In spite of a more recent economic growth, this damage to the social fabric of the country has yet to be repaired. In Ukraine, the number of children in need has swollen to an estimated 150,000. Most are not orphans, but run-away children. They flee from homes often dogged by brutality, alcoholism, neglect and poverty but end up in even more desperate situations, unprotected, hungry, lacking the most basic hygiene, education or training. They become drug-dependent, the victims of brutality and sexual assault, and many resorts to crime.
The Ukrainian Government acknowledges and seeks to address this situation. Projects like ours always require the support of local authorities and it is clear that the success of a similar project in the future will depend on a reform of the Ukrainian legal system. Ukrainian government institutions caring for children in need would do well to adopt European standards.
The “Our Kids” Centre of the German-Polish-Ukrainian Society offers to pilot reforms. It works in accordance with European standards and has been endorsed by the Ukrainian Government. „Our Kids“ supports children in need. It is run by professional people using innovative methods and in close cooperation with government offices and aid organizations. „Our Kids“ also aims to offer training to employees at comparable centers in other cities and regions. The Centre will serve as a forum for dialogue on new approaches in youth and social welfare. It will bring together practitioners, experts and politicians from Ukraine and the EU. “Our Kids” is a trilateral partnership of the German-Polish-Ukrainian Society, the private sector, and the public sector.
A HOUSE FOR „FAMILIES“ IN KYIV
The project has been provided with a former kindergarten by the Kiev Municipal Administration. Three houses with a living space of 2000m2 are located in a large garden covering 14,000m2. GPUS is refurbishing the buildings to suit its requirements.
Two of the three houses will serve as homes for eight „families“, which will live in their respective apartments. In each apartment “social parents” will look after up to six “kids”. These families will live permanently in the Centre. Each family will be supported by one social worker. The „families“ living in the Centre will share living and leisure rooms, a library, and a computer room on the top floor.
The third building will house an office for a psychologist, a doctor’s surgery and rooms for other medical personnel, as required. It will also house training rooms, storage space, and a utility room. Conference and guest rooms will be located on the second and third floors, to accommodate experts, social workers, and volunteers working at the Centre. The spacious gardens will provide room for sports, games, and enable children to be introduced to plants, animals, gardening and growing their own food.
The Ukrainian authorities look to this project as a way of leveraging reforms. Two special government decrees have been issued, which consolidate the project’s exceptional, model character for 4 years.
These decrees offer “Our Kids” the opportunity to experiment with new approaches, and to analyze their experience jointly with experts from Ukraine and the EU, and to draw relevant conclusions for broader policy development. It ensures that “Our Kids” can apply best practice, uninhibited by any restrictions from mainstream rules. At the same time, the government nexus and relevance for policymaking remain in place.
Provided that the Centre receives a positive assessment in 2011, it can hope to be able to bring about mainstream reform. This will later have a favorable impact on many other aid organizations operating in Ukraine, giving them the opportunity to work under a reformed legal framework, in accordance with European standards.