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What is being done for vulnerable children?

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, September 25
"Reaching vulnerable children in Georgia, children living or working on the streets" was the topic of the information meeting held for journalists in Kazbegi on September 21-22. The meeting revealed that serious changes have been carried out in Georgia concerning children’s protection during recent years. Only 4 large children’s houses were maintained out of 41. There are projects as well that aim to significantly decrease the number of children working in the streets and support their future involvement in active public life. The meeting also revealed that a single state body could not solve the problem of vulnerable children. Various state structures should have information over the issue and actively participate in the process.

In 2005 the Georgian government launched new strategy concerning the vulnerable children. These reforms include closing large-scale institutions – including infant homes and institutions for children with disabilities; expanding access to better quality foster care and small group homes that cater to around 8-10 children; boosting the qualifications of social workers and the role they play in childcare; opening more day care centers; improving services to prevent child abandonment and strengthening vulnerable families.

Eka Saneblidze, from the Social Service Agency, stressed that “large children’s houses disturbed the normal development of children and did not meet the needs of various categories of children.” She stated that a family environment is the only option that might encourage the normal development of children.

Saneblidze also stressed that the actors in the field are trying their best to reintegrate the children back to their homes.

“During the last 12 months 33% of children who lived in various caring institutions have been reintegrated into their homes,” Saneblidze said, adding that the state financially assists those families that decide and return their children. The number of small family houses has also increased up to 45.

Saneblidze stressed that the main challenge is to strengthen the measures for prevention of abandoning the children.

Sascha Graumann, representative at UNICEF in Georgia, stated that economic advancement might also perform the key role in solving the children’s problems.

Foreign organization representatives widely speak on the problems that are related to children living and working in streets.

The planned activities within the program "Reaching vulnerable children in Georgia, children living or working on the streets" create the appropriate mechanisms and systems that can cover and address the needs of other related, vulnerable groups over time. According to various studies, there are up to 1,500 children living and working on the streets in Georgia.

The project will last for two years. The initiative will be rolled out in Tbilisi during the first year and the activities will cover Batumi or Kutaisi in the second year and consider cooperation with the other state social workers, provide funds to the partner NGOs and ensure the delivery of quality services.

The Ministry of Justice addresses issues of child documentation (e.g. introducing temporary ID numbers while full documentation paperwork is processed) to help children get enrolled into services and links this initiative with the juvenile crime prevention and anti-trafficking strategy.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs establishes close collaboration between the mobile teams and district police; ensures that police officers know how to interact with highly vulnerable children and children in conflict with the law. The Ministry of Finance is responsible for sustainable state financing.

The Ministry of Education and Science enrolls children in the mainstream education system; works with children that have special educational needs, assesses their skills, develops individual learning plans and monitors their achievements at the school level.

The Tbilisi Municipality provides the premises for service providers and ensures that vulnerable children in Tbilisi have access to all the services they are entitled to. The partner NGOs, World Vision, Caritas Georgia and Child and Environment, provide quality services to the children targeted by this initiative. They ensure that children receive appropriate, individually tailored services through mobile teams working directly with children on the streets, day care/crisis intervention centers and 24-hour transitional centers.

Maia Mgeliashvili, expert in children’s welfare issues, stressed that the public attitude should also be modified towards the children working and living in the streets. She stressed that sometimes there are nihilistic attitudes towards them “that they have such type of lifestyle and nothing will change.” Mgeliashvili stressed that solving the problems of children working in streets is serious and complex, and needs maximal involvement of the state structures.

Social worker, Nino Kobalia, stated that many problems are related with the fact that such category of children and their families have no nationality or ID cards, which disturbs the children’s involvement in different programs, or providing medical service for them. Kobalia also mentioned that “giving money to the children creates more problems and encourages the children to stay on the streets” as in many cases the children have “supervisors” who take the money from them and use the children “for business.”