Still Abandoned

 

Home Up
 

setimes.com 2005

 

"Despite pledges to close all the big institutions by 2007, about 37,000 children still live in them, according to the latest

European Union report on Romania released last month. The same number live in group homes run by the state or

nongovernmental organizations, and nearly 50,000 live with foster families.

 

Romanian government figures are even rosier: They show that only about 32,000 children remain  in institutions-down about

5,000 since last year. But critics claim that children simply have been moved around to make the numbers look better.

Then there's the problem of how to find permanent homes, since international adoptions are no longer an option.

"We can't solve the problems with Romanians,"  Dr. Gancevici  said, folding her arms and leaning back in her
chair as if challenging me to prove otherwise. "No Romanian will adopt a gypsy or problem or disabled child."

                                                                                          

The Eastern European Adoption Coalition

December 24, 2004

 

 

Dispatches From Romania: The Babies Left Behind

Sarah E. Richards
Dec. 1, 2004



ORADEA-Michelle Sims picked up the floppy infant and showed him to me. "He
looks like a 2-month-old, and he was left here almost six months ago," the
American social worker said. "They call him Little Bird Boy." The puny child
with a mat of black hair and big brown eyes that stare blankly was abandoned
at birth at the Oradea Children's Hospital in northwest Romania, near the
Hungarian border.

If his mother has not shown up to claim him by the end of six months, the
hospital can declare him officially abandoned, making him eligible to be
adopted domestically, according to current Romanian law. But that is
unlikely to happen, Sims explained, since Little Bird Boy's dark skin
identifies him as a Roma, or gypsy. Romanians aren't lining up for Roma
children. They make up 10 percent of the population but about 60 percent of
abandoned babies.

"Any American family would take him because he's so cute!" Sims said,
squealing the compliment and squeezing his foot. But after accusations
surfaced that adoption agencies were selling children to the highest bidder,
the European Union pressured Romania to permanently shut down foreign
adoptions. It is one of a flurry of new initiatives drafted to overhaul the
child welfare system as a condition for EU entry in 2007 and to show that
Romania can take care of its children.

Sims runs a foundation called Children in the Son, which is affiliated with
a South Carolina church. It is building a home for pregnant mothers, hires
foster parents for about 10 children, and pays for infant formula and
clothing for the 30 or so abandoned babies. They are one of several
nonprofit groups that hire women from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. each weekday to hold,
rock, and sing to the babies to try to prevent attachment, failure to
thrive, and sensory-deprivation problems.

"You should have seen it before," Sims said, a refrain I would hear
repeatedly during my stay in Romania as people described malnourished,
under-stimulated children screaming for attention and biting themselves in
the infamous orphanages, which were exposed in 1991 and led to a wave of
international adoptions.

This Sunday, hospital workers change diapers only on scheduled rounds and
prop up baby bottles on blankets because they don't have time to hand-feed
their charges. Despite the forest murals in the sterile hallways and the
donated Fisher-Price toys in the corner, the place is pretty grim. The smell
of feces hits you as soon as you enter the floor, and babies don't stop
crying. The noises are not the sharp outbursts that signal the need for
attention or the whimper of a fussy baby resigned to a nap, but rather the
unfocused wails of neglected infants. "Nurses don't hear the crying
anymore," Sims said, as she looked for a supervisor to release another baby
to his new foster parents.

Sims suspects that Little Bird Boy's mother was one of the many women who
drop their babies off at the hospital, listing a false address, and then
disappear. Some babies have been there a while because their mothers use the
hospital as a form of child care, especially during the winter months, when
many poor families don't have heat. If a mother visits her baby once every
six months, she can keep her parental rights. "One told me, 'I'll get him in
a couple of years when I can afford it.' I must hear stuff like that a dozen
times a year," Sims said.

In the meantime, babies like Little Bird Boy languish. But in what appears
to be an "a-ha" moment for the Romanian government, a new law will require
hospitals to report abandoned babies within 24 hours to the local
departments of child protection, which will place them with foster families.
The police have 30 days to locate the mother and encourage her to take back
the child. If she can't be found, local authorities will give the baby a
name and birth certificate.

The reforms also mandate that babies under age 2 will no longer be placed in
institutions. The government is slowly shutting the orphanages anyway in
favor of group homes and foster care, but the babies will benefit first.
Marv and Diann Tieman, an American couple who run a private home for
abandoned babies in Galoti, a few hours north of Bucharest, were told they
would receive no new babies after Jan. 1, 2005.

But no one seems to know where the state is going to find enough foster
families. Marv Tieman said he had to keep some of the babies for months
before families could take them. Sims had to turn down requests from the
state hospital asking her foundation to find and pay for foster care for
five children because she couldn't afford it. And a group of foster parents
from Olt County in southern Romania recently staged a protest claiming they
were being forced to care for more children than they had agreed to.

"We're developing a foster care network. But it's hard to find so many
parents. It's very expensive," explained Sanda Gancevici, a pediatrician who
specializes in developmental disabilities at Orphanage No. 1 in Bucharest,
which is in the process of closing. She is a slight woman with a hard face
who became resigned to the sluggish, exasperating system long ago. A quick
tour of the orphanage showed that the children were well tended to, but they
still had the telltale signs of having spent years in institutions-the
hand-waving, head-rocking, and morose faces.

"It's improving, but a child in an institution is forever a damaged child,"
she said.

Despite pledges to close all the big institutions by 2007, about 37,000
children still live in them, according to the latest EU report on Romania
released last month. The same number live in group homes run by the state or
nongovernmental organizations, and nearly 50,000 live with foster families.
Romanian government figures are even rosier: They show that only about
32,000 children remain in institutions-down about 5,000 since last year. But
critics claim that children simply have been moved around to make the
numbers look better.

Then there's the problem of how to find permanent homes, since international
adoptions are no longer an option. "We can't solve the problems with
Romanians," Dr. Gancevici said, folding her arms and leaning back in her
chair as if challenging me to prove otherwise. "No Romanian will adopt a
gypsy or problem or disabled child."

In the meantime, the Romanian government is trying to figure out how to cut
off the supply of unwanted children by forcing desperate mothers to rethink
their decisions. The current law requires mothers to wait 45 days after the
birth of a child before she can legally sign over her rights.

Anna, 16, who didn't give her last name, was forced to take her newborn
daughter back after she tried to abandon her at a hospital in the suburbs of
Bucharest, "A social worker told me, 'You can't leave it here,' " she said.
"I first thought about abortion, but I couldn't do it because the baby was
too big, almost five months. I was confused. I didn't know what to do," she
said.

She explained that she was kicked out of her parents' house, so the social
worker sent her to a shelter for mothers and children run by the charity
Hope Worldwide. Loredana Bogdan, who helps run the 6-month-old center, where
women lounge around the kitchen with their babies, said two women decided to
keep their babies after the waiting period ended.

Anna has been there a little over a month, and from the way she can barely
be bothered to prop the baby's head up, it's clear she's counting the days.

Sarah E. Richards is a freelance writer based in New York City. She can be
reached at
sarah@saraherichards.com

C2004 Microsoft Corporation

 

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 NOTE: I received this e-mail on a list-serve I belong to that is dedicated to working for the human rights of the Romanian orphans.   Ms. S

Babies still abandoned in Romanian hospitals: pattern unchanged for 30 years,
says UNICEF


BUCHAREST / GENEVA, Thursday, 20 January 2005:  As new child rights
legislation enters into force in Romania, a report finds that babies are just as likely
to be abandoned in the country’s maternity and pediatric hospitals as they
were three decades ago.

According to a survey supported by the Ministry of Health and UNICEF and
carried out in over 150 medical institutions, around 4,000 newborn babies were
abandoned in Romanian maternity hospitals immediately after delivery in 2004, or
1.8% of all newborns.

The Situation of Child Abandonment in Romania report finds that many of the
mothers who abandon their children are very young, poorly educated and living
in extreme poverty. The percentage of abandoned babies who are born underweight
(34%) is four times higher than the norm for Romania (8.5%).

“Unfortunately, young mothers going into hospitals are confronted with
conservative attitudes and practices. The system remains very traditional and
penalizes the poor and marginalized,” says Pierre Poupard, UNICEF Representative in
Romania.

The report comes hot on the heels of new child protection legislation in
Romania, which came into force on 1 January. It calls for speedy implementation of
the new legislation, which promotes an holistic approach to child protection,
with responsibilities shared across sectors such as health, education and
social welfare and integrated services within communities.

Demonstrating the need for such services, the report cites the confusion of a
17 year-old single mother who did not know where to go or what to do with her
baby after giving birth in a maternity hospital. Far from helping her, she
says, “a nurse told me that it would be better not to see the child too much, to
leave him there and start a new life, and try not to get attached to him,
because otherwise it will get difficult for the child”.

The Situation of Child Abandonment in Romania report follows a commitment by
UNICEF, the Government and NGOs to identify the problem, reveal its underlying
causes and suggest solutions to drastically reduce the phenomenon and its
consequences. The findings confirm that this challenge is not insurmountable and,
though complex, can be overcome.

Young unmarried mothers, for example, who face disapproval from their
families, need support to take on their new responsibilities, including access to
community services. Mothers without shelter or living in poor conditions who
decide to leave their children in pediatric hospitals for protection are unaware
of the negative impact of long-term separation from families.

The report recommends urgent action on birth registration, in line with the
child’s right to a name, nationality and a family. Because of gaps in the birth
registration system, a striking 31.8% of children abandoned in pediatric
hospitals have no identity papers. This makes them “invisible” in legal terms,
and therefore extremely vulnerable to such dangers as trafficking.

Finally, it calls for the development of appropriate indicators and effective
monitoring and evaluation measures to ensure steady improvements in the
quality of basic services for children and families – a bulwark against child
abandonment.

“The new legislation is in line with the spirit of the Convention on the
Rights of the Child, and UNICEF stands ready to play its part,” says Poupard. “We
are offering support to the institutions that will be putting the new
legislation into practice, and for desperate situations – such as the institution
housing more than 230 children under one year of age - we can immediately support
individual evaluations and develop tailor-made plans to protect each  child.
We will also help Romania develop what we call a protective environment for
all children – an environment that shields all children from this kind of harm
in the same way that good nutrition and health care shield them from disease.”

The Situation of Child Abandonment in Romania report will be launched (in
Romanian only) by UNICEF Representative Pierre Poupard at the UNICEF offices in
Bucharest at 11.00 (local time) on Thursday, 20 January.



For further information, please contact:
Angela Hawke, UNICEF Regional Office for CEE/CIS and the Baltics, Tel: + 41
22 909 5433
Codruta Hedesiu, UNICEF Bucharest: Tel: +4021 201 7864
from:
http://www.unicef.org/media/media_24892.html

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