Homes for children in danger
The project in brief
The Smile of the Child (TSoC)
Since June 2017
This project operates 11 homes for children with a family-based care model, which provides a safe living environment for children of Greek or other origin that have been separated from their family environment as well as for refugee/migrant unaccompanied minors.
Experience shows that the quality-approach builds a relationship of trust, an environment of safety and stability and ensures access to services for children and youth that will enhance a proper personal development, their prospects in life and will also enhance their potential for integration.
Over the years, The Smile of the Child has demonstrated that its holistic and child-oriented approach creates a family for disadvantaged children. This retains children within a protective and caring environment, with no runaway cases. The local community supports the initiative and participates in the procedures as volunteers (Tutoring the children, assisting in the household…)
Social inclusion means that children:
- Experience a sense of belonging
- Are accepted (for who they are) within their communities
- Have valued roles in the community
- Are actively participating in the community
- Are involved in activities based on their personal preference
- Have social relationships with others whom they chose and share common interests
- Have friends.
When young people experience some or all of these conditions in their life they are more likely to be happier and healthier. In fact, social inclusion is an important “determinant of health”. Without inclusion migrants are more likely to experience poor health (including poor mental health), loneliness, isolation, and poor self-esteem. Without real social inclusion, young migrants will remain unconnected, unrecognized and uncooperative with the host society. The failure to adequately resolve this problem perpetuates the risk of exclusion in their life trajectories.
Unaccompanied children seeking to obtain international protection in the EU must be provided suitable and safe reception conditions, which include placement with a foster family, accommodation centres with special provision for children, or other suitable accommodation, such as supervised independent living arrangements for older children.
The notion of “alternative care” in this context is not only about offering suitable accommodation outside the traditional reception institutions, but also about providing suitable assistance to the children - which should be tailored to their individual needs, besides facilitating access to education and healthcare. This is how the Homes operate. In addition, the organization deals with the issues of achieving full autonomy and effective social inclusion and support the children even after the age of 18.
The current alternative protection system in Greece is still failing to provide appropriate support to young migrants to achieve effective social inclusion. Within protection systems and when addressing inclusion of young migrants, most efforts tend to prioritize regulations of legal status, education and labour access as means to achieve autonomy and inclusion into the host society. Although these are effective pathways to achieve inclusion, it cannot be complete without the social component.
The model used by The Smile of the Child is proven to contribute to the successful social integration of these children, avoiding the feeling of separation and distinction, and preventing phenomena of racist and xenophobic reactions towards them.
- Foster integration of unaccompanied minors into society.
- Avoid institutionalization.
- Joint upbringing of:
a) both girls and boys (girls aged 3 months-17 years, boys 3 months-10 years) and
b) children at risk living in Greece and unaccompanied refugee/migrant children, based on a holistic approach, offering a full range of services and activities, including psycho-social assistance, adequate response to health issues, the provision of individualized legal information, etc.
Main activities of the Good Practice
Each Home has a maximum capacity for 30 children. Our Homes are staffed by:
- Social Workers
- Housekeeping Staff
The operation and daily life is adapted to each child’s individual needs, particularities and personality, always with respect to their personal will and opinions.
Children attend local schools, private foreign language courses, tutoring and courses on IT and computers. They also take part in sports activities, cultural associations, school and other outside activities. They play, celebrate, go for holidays, to the theatre, cinema and recreation parks, etc.
In addition to the assistance offered by the scientific personnel of our organization, specialized centers offer specialized services when necessary for the smooth development of a child’s personality and individual needs.
Volunteers play a significant role in children's Homes, as they undertake certain obligations with consistency and responsibility.
While the project did not include partner organizations, TSoC implements the project in close and continuous cooperation with the national authorities (e.g. Prosecutors for Minors, Ministry of Migration Policy, Municipalities, Police), UNHCR, IOM and other NGOs.
TSoC has a longstanding collaboration with national and local authorities via the signed MoUs that TSoC has with numerous national, regional or local authorities (e.g. Ministry of Health, EKAV, Ministry of Citizen’s Protection, Ministry of Interior, Prefecture of Attica, Municipality of Thessaloniki, Ministry of Shipping & Island Policy) and UNHCR.
Last but not least, the beneficiaries are directly involved in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation stages of the action.
Challenges and how they were overcome
Children, despite their different linguistic, cultural and religious backgrounds, live harmoniously, completely free of social stereotypes and prejudices. They have the same needs, anxieties, difficulties and desires. They have moved away from their homes, trying to adapt to a new environment, to relate and trust new people and processes.
All children follow the same daily schedule, always taking into account the different cultures of origin, their customs, personal characteristics and abilities.
In order to provide complete care to all children in childcare settings, we must strive in every possible way for their future rehabilitation. Adoption and foster care procedures should be facilitated wherever possible, while it is important that family reunification procedures for unaccompanied minors are not impeded. This way all children, regardless of why they have been taken to a child residential care facility, have the opportunity to experience family-based care and stability.
In the same spirit of family-based care and stability, as well as on ethical grounds, our support and care is not abruptly discontinued at the age of 18, but adapted in a gradual process determined by individual needs and circumstances.
Results of the Good Practice
- The simultaneous cohabitation of refugee and migrant children with children of other social characteristics has significantly contributed to their faster adaptation to the new environment and country.
- The stigmatization of refugee and migrant children has been avoided.
- Since June 2017 until today, TSoC has accommodated a total of 19 unaccompanied refugee minors in total (in two homes).
Antonia Tsirigoti, Project Coordinator, The Smile of the Child (TSoC)