Currently, there are about 3,500 children who inhabit Armenia’s orphanages and attend its special schools.* The roots of this situation stem from Armenia’s weak system of social protections, the insufficient number of community-based services that are available, and the lack of control mechanisms. But there is a great push to overhaul this system and the FAR Children’s Center is a part of it.
In cooperation with Save the Children, the Center is implementing the “Social Inclusion of Vulnerable Children” program, which is funded by USAID and co-funded by UNICEF. The program, which is essentially a continuation of foster care, aims to assist Armenia’s government to carry out reforms designed to ensure a child’s right to live in a family and to access affordable community-based social and educational services.
The new program intends to reunite children living in orphanages, child protection institutions like the Children’s Center, and special schools, with families. In cases when reunification with a child’s own family is not possible or advisable, the alternative solution would be for the child to be placed with a foster family. Also, children who go to special schools would be directed to study in mainstream schools, and along with other vulnerable children would also receive alternative community-based services such as day care or art classes. Through the program, 80 children will be placed in foster families over the next two years.
Since 2006, the FAR Children’s Center, in cooperation with Armenia’s government and with financial support from UNICEF, had implemented the nation’s foster care program in order to help the increasing number of abandoned children who were typically directed to boarding schools and orphanages. Thanks to the program, 25 children were placed with foster families. Yet, the program was put on hold for several years due to lack of funding until now.
“There is a 34% rate of child poverty in Armenia and current existing support services are not enough to help everybody. In other words, children are given care and protection mainly when they are included in one of the child care institutions (orphanages or special schools) but it is in contradiction with the child’s right to live in a family,” said Mira Antonyan, Executive Director of the FAR Children’s Center.
*While some special schools are geared toward children with disabilities, many are simply boarding schools for children from poor families to escape rough home lives, thus making them more akin to orphanages than educational institutions.