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FAR's Child Support Center in Yerevan Helps Abandoned Children

September 17 2010 at 12:14 AM
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Closing--Reminiscing a life changing trip to Armenia: A Call to Action.
September 16, 2010
By Katrina Shakarian
http://farusa.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/acyoa-dispatches-closing-reminiscing-a-life-changing-trip-to-armenia-a-call-to-action
[linked image] CHILDREN AT FAR'S CHILD SUPPORT CENTER

....Upon returning to the states, ACYOA members answered that call by committing to supporting FAR's Child Support Center in Yerevan. This center is unique. It's the only one like it in Armenia, and in the entire Caucuses region. Opened in 2000, it serves at-risk children throughout the country. Armenia, like many countries in the former soviet space, plunged into poverty after 1991. As the economy crashed, and borders flew open, then closed, many of its societal problems grew two and three fold. Of course, children are amongst the most profoundly affected by such upheavals, and amongst those least able to protect themselves.

The center exists to support children who are victims of sexual abuse, trafficking and prostitution, and poverty and abandonment. They also seek to protect children who have fallen into a life of delinquency and have are victims of child labor.

According to director Mira Antonyan, very few children in Armenian orphanages are actually parentless orphans. Rather, they are victims of abuse and abandonment. Until recently, the government's approach has been to send these children to orphanages. The center for Child Support offers an alternative to this long withstanding practice. They offer a child-focused approach that aims to heal and rehabilitate children. They work with families, with the hope that many of the children in their temporary shelter can eventually return to their own homes. Antonyan said, "65% of its cases are reunited with their families." In cases where family reunification is not possible, they place children with foster families. Another service that they offer is an abuse hotline. Anyone who has witnessed or suspects abuse, can report their concerns to the center. Its staff is ready to both reach out to and receive children in its facilities 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

There are quite a few obstacles that stand in its way; Armenia's fledgling foster care system, for one. About "300 families are waiting to receive children," said Antonyan, yet the government is unable to compensate them for child-care expenses. Armenia's social safety nets like welfare, Medicaid, and non-profit social service agencies are in their most rudimentary stages, if they exist at all. Couple the virtual absence of such safety nets with widespread unemployment, and the root of the problem continues to fester. Many families cannot adequately support their children. These are the circumstances that produce the social orphans sitting in the child support center, asserts Antonyan. The solution she declares is "supporting vulnerable families," which the current economy and government cannot adequately do.

Among the centers most immediate needs are mental health and social work professionals who can support the center's staff and the children they serve. The ACYOA is currently forming a committee to support FAR's Child Support Center. They will be spending the next few months creating and implementing a plan of action.

 
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Armenia’s "other" children

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September 25 2010, 8:03 AM 

Armenias "other" children
by Florence Avakian
September 24, 2010
reporter.am

http://reporter.am/index.cfm?objectid=B5158630-C7BC-11DF-994C0003FF3452C2

[linked image]
Yerevan: They are three and four year olds who excitedly run over to me with ear-to-ear smiles as I arrive at the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR) Children's Center in Yerevan. Their cherubic faces are aglow with the happiness that only children of this age can express unabashedly.

But their joyous greeting belies a darker history of the 38 children at the Center - aged 3 to 18 currently, of possible abuse, abandonment, homelessness, sexual trafficking, or simply parents so poor they cannot afford to raise them. Though the number of children at this Center is very small, it nonetheless exposes a condition that is on the rise due to the severe economic conditions in Armenia.

It was during my recent trip to Armenia that I had the privilege of visiting this amazing institution which is supported by the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR). The buildings are nestled among trees, playground areas, and fragrant flower beds planted and cared for by the children. There is even a sandbox for the more aggressive youngsters to relieve their frustrations, anxieties and fears.

In one building live the younger children, and the teenagers are housed in the second one, both kept in immaculate condition. During my walk-through, a class was taking place with an instructor questioning the older ones about Armenian history. In another room, a therapist was counseling a weeping child. And in a nearby bedroom, two teenagers were quietly discussing personal issues. In the two art rooms, the drawing, painting, and sculpting talents of these youngsters were proudly displayed.

The usual stay for a child at the Center is 30 to 40 days, after which some return to their biological families (65 percent), go into foster care (with funds from FAR and UNICEF ended), or stay with relatives. The last option is either an orphanage, night care, or special educational schools. More than 400 youngsters go through this Center, and find a better life every year.
Change of concept

Started in 1937, the Center was run by the police as a refuge for lost children during the Soviet era. Before 1999, the idea behind this Center was isolation and punishment. In 1999, the Center was given to FAR which undertook a complete reconstruction and renovation. Through the vision of an American philanthropist, Barbara Lorinci, and the influence of FAR Board of Directors member Annette Choolfaian, the concept was changed, and in 2000, FAR hired social workers, psychologists, therapists, creating a new team where the police had a minimal role.

"Most of the children have come from poverty or family difficulties, and have found an organized, devoted family life here," said the energetic and dedicated Director of the FAR Children's Center, Dr. Mira Antonyan who has a PH.D. in Social Work, and has been with the Center since August 2005. "All children have the right to live safely, to enjoy life freely in secure environments."

Before independence, there were 600 children in institutions, Dr. Antonyan continued. By 2002, the figure had escalated to 12,000 due to extreme poverty (over 50 percent of the country), the Karabagh war, and the lack of services. The current era is much more child-focused, but it depends on each situation. Since 2000, more than 6000 traumatized children have been cared for at the Children's Center.

From 1999 to 2004, approximately 2000 children were found begging in the streets, along with their mothers, Dr. Antonyan revealed. The fathers had either been killed in the Karabagh war, were separated, or had gone to Russia seeking work. Some parents were drug users, or had mental illnesses.

And some of the traumatic conditions that these children have been subjected to include behavioral problems, drugs (including using petrol as drugs), child prostitution (a nine-year old boy), sex trafficking (two sisters 13 and 14 years of age), stealing (218 cases), children working in dangerous conditions (40 percent). This is in addition to the 8000 in orphanages, and 800 in day care.
Dedicated attention, support needed

Today, each child receives individual and caring attention, and the premises evoke a feeling of coziness, and warmth. The professional staff of the Center includes social workers, psychologists and nurses who give individual care and support to each child and family.

On an honor roll in the foyer of one of the buildings were listed the benefactors who are supporting the Center, including the names of several Armenian-Americans. Just recently, the Mardigian Family Foundation gave a generous donation to establish the FAR Child Protection Fund. Dr. Antonyan pointed out that the needs of the Center are much higher than the support that is given.

"This is the only such shelter for all of Armenia and Karabagh," continued Dr. Antonyan who pointed out that "there is no social support for these at risk children when they are living with their families. But in these institutions, the state, the diaspora, and charities will support them.

But it has been proven that children who have been in institutions, and therefore do not have a close bond with their families, retain many behavioral, developmental and personality problems, including a lack of social skills, and low self esteem when they reach adulthood.

The Children's Center is for many of these children their only home, and their hope for a more stable future. "Their past is the past and cannot be changed," said Dr. Antonyan. "We are doing our best to make their future as bright and secure as possible."

For more information on the Yerevan Children's Center, or to make a donation, readers can contact the FAR office in New York at (212) 889-5150, or at info@farusa.org

 
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