On February 27, Terre des hommes Moldova presented the results of the qualitative study "Children in Street Situations in the Republic of Moldova". Representatives of national and local public authorities, child protection professionals, international development community, and civil society organizations attended the event.
The study was conducted by the Romanian psychologist Liliana Foca, with the support of Terre des hommes Moldova and represents a first attempt of scientific analysis of children in street situations in Moldova. The research is based on data collected during October - December 2017 from 43 participants, including 18 children aged between 10 and 17 from different cities who have been or still are in street situations at the time of the research. Other respondents were family members of children in street situations and child protection specialists. The study has also included information from social work files of 13 children in street situations.
"This study covers an informational gap regarding children in street situations in Moldova. It analysed factors that determine this phenomena and current protection practices regarding children in street situations", explains Ludmila Ungureanu, Director of Tdh Moldova, the need to carry out such a research. "Most importantly, the study presents the opinion of children in street situations about factors that determined their street situation and their recommendations for protection services. This study brought the voice of children into the discussion. Authorities and child protection organizations should take this voice into consideration in reforming the protection mechanism for children in street situations."
According to professionals who participated in survey, the main reason of children leaving their homes is high level of family poverty that correlates with parental alcohol abuse and, implicitly, lack of supervision. Working with these children is particularly difficult since most of them come from places other than the cities in which they are identified, and many of them, although are brought back to the family by the police or by social services, return to the streets due to the unhealthy family environment.
Professionals say that despite the interventions carried out - parental counselling, child psychological counselling, medical assistance, school reintegration, monitoring and placement among them - in most cases, these interventions have been unsuccessful due to parents’ lack of collaboration, alcohol addiction and “immoral” behaviours.
The chances of social and family reintegration of these children drop significantly if they spend a longer time in the street, if they come from outside Chisinau, or have mental health issues, say the professionals.
On the other hand, from parents’ point of view, the reason why their children left home was that they developed harmful friendships with other children who were already in street situations. They claim that they tried to speak with children about the risks they expose themselves to while on the streets and made numerous efforts to bring them back home, but without any success, declaring themselves powerless in the end.
Contrary to their parents’ statement, children participating in the study stated that the main reason for leaving home was the violent home environment, namely the physical abuse from their parents. Other reason are children left unsupervised by parents gone to work abroad or because parents divorced or one parent was imprisoned or died.
A worrying fact that this research revealed is that, unlike professionals and parents, who mentioned that children’s first contacts with the street occur around the age of 10 years, children declared that these contacts happened at an earlier age, some when they were 4 or 5 years old. This discrepancy is a clear indicator of the lack of information on these children, both from professionals and parents.
Following the results of the analysis, the study makes a series of recommendations for child protection authorities, out of which Liliana Foca emphasized the following:
- The first one and, probably, the most important one is that social services should take into consideration the child’s opinion when deciding placement in centers or return in the family. For those children who consent to placement, an adjustment period to the life and the rules of the centers should be granted.
- A series of support measures for the children who choose to live in the street should be developed.
- Public campaigns to educate parents on the responsibility to supervise their children should be developed.
- Professionals working with children in street situations should attend workshops and trainings.
- Systematic collection of information on the number of children in street situations and on their migration tendencies should be conducted by community social services and police in order to achieve an efficient child protection intervention.
After presenting the results of the research and following the discussions, a general conclusion among the specialists participating in the event indicated that it is imperative to take into account the child's opinion and desire when making a decision on his/her regard. The study has reached sensitive points, has opened discussion topics and has emphasized issues that need reflection and change regarding children in street situations. Terre des hommes Moldova aims to continue discussions in various circles of professionals in order to identify and implement the best solutions for the protection and assistance of children in street situations.
The study and the executive summary in English and Romanian can be downloaded in our library.