Volunteer visitors for abandoned children

Volunteers in Lithuania are signing up to provide emotional support for hospitalized children who have no visitors due to family circumstances.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Lithuania
Volunteer visitors for abandoned children - NewsMavens
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Why this story matters:

The initiative Niekieno Vaikai by Žiburio charity foundation organizes visits for abandoned children in Vilnius's main children's hospital. The little patients end up in alone for various reasons -- because staff from orphanages are too busy to join them, or because they were removed from their homes after domestic violence or other crisis situations in their family. 

In an interview before the launch of the project, contributors stressed that children feel anxious when left alone in a sterile hospital environment. 

The Niekieno Vaikai volunteers work hard to put children at ease. They make them laugh, play and read with them, comfort them after unpleasant treatments, and help hospital staff convince them to take medications.

Volunteers must be prepared to deal with emotionally taxing situations such as when children ask about when mum and dad are coming back, as well as controlling their own attachment to the child. Indrė Vileitė, a co-founder, told NewsMavens that the second round of applications is ongoing, and the NGO expects to start training another 20 volunteers soon. 

Deinstitutionalisation of care facilities has not been easy in Lithuania. Despite many ads in public transport inviting families to become professional carers, there is a dearth of volunteers. After a series of shocking cases of domestic violence and homicides involving children, authorities are stepping up investigations into troubled families and removing children from potentially dangerous households. But without a coherent network of services, many children fall through the cracks.

According to Mariana Sutkienė, co-founder of 'Niekieno Vaikai', sometimes healthy children spend weekends in the hospital just because they were removed from their home on a Friday and no bureaucrat was available to process their case and assign them to a carer.

Details from the story:

  • Founders of 'Niekieno vaikai', Indrė Vileitė and Mariana Sutkienė, discussed their initiative on Vilnius University radio. Mariana was inspired to pool volunteers for emotional support when she saw a child all alone in a hospital.
  • The initiative focuses on one hospital in Vilnius, with an aim to develop a functioning service before rolling it out to more institutions. Volunteers spend time with abandoned children, talk and read to them.
  • As the founders discovered, 35 children aged up to 2 years found themselves in hospital in 2017 not because they were ill, but because they were taken away from home following a crisis situation in their families.
  • In the past, such children would end up in an orphanage, but due to deinstitutionalization of care they should, theoretically, be matched with temporary carers. There is a lack of such carers in the country, and, as a result, these children have nowhere to go. Authorities send them to a hospital, but hospitals are unprepared to provide social services, manage the children's anxiety and explain to them what is going to happen next.
  • According to the founders, a new reform, which started this month, may increase the number of children who end up in hospitals because they have nowhere else to go. In the past, most children taken from home would be sent to their grandparents or other relatives, but from now on relatives will be barred from temporarily caring for children if they have not completed special training for that purpose.
  • Since its launch, Niekieno Vaikai has gathered 20 volunteers and helped 11 children.
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