Traditionally in Tajikistan, many children with additional needs were placed in institutional care. The youngest would be taken to closed baby homes and, as they grew older, moved on to boarding schools with the potential for institutional care throughout childhood. Children do not develop to their potential, and suffer physically and emotionally when not brought up in a loving family, and there are lifelong harmful consequences for individuals and society as a whole.
Children under the age of 3 are particularly at risk of abuse of their rights at this critical time in their development. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child found that conditions in the region’s care institutions were poor. We responded to UNICEF’s call for an end to institutional care for children under 3 in Central Asia, and the government of Tajikistan welcomed our support.
HealthProm began work in Tajikistan in 2006 in partnership with local civil society organsiations and UNICEF. Since then, we have collaborated on successive projects that provide family support so parents do not need to abandon their children. We set up family support centres next to all four of Tajikistan’s baby homes to help parents retain loving care of their children at home.
Bit by bit we have changed young child traditional social and health services from closed institutions, into open community-oriented Family and Child Support Centres. We instigated a new social model of care that promotes child development in the right place: family and community. We achieved this gradual transition through advocacy to change ideas and by building skills and capacities for development.
During the last four years, the Putting Families First project has consolidated our earlier work so it will stand the test of time. We have worked with our local partners, the government and UNICEF to write and implement new legally binding regulations that formally end the era of young child institutionalsiation. In 2019, these Ministry regulations were passed into local law and the former baby homes are now formally reconstituted as Family and Child Support Centres,
These Family and Child Support Centres offer special support for child development, where children enjoy themselves and thrive through group and individual therapies, and parents attend parenting groups. We support parents in crisis, perhaps when homeless or separated, with a bridge to keep families united. We include all diverse families in need, and we reach out to families who cannot get to our centres.
We have developed an alternative family care programme to accommodate children from the former baby homes in a loving family. Because more children are being cared for at home, we work to make sure they are kept safe as they develop through our ‘Safer Care and Development’ approach based on the Scottish government’s welfare model.
We congratulate our local partners for bringing the project to life in Tajikistan in challenging circumstances. We are enormously grateful to our supporters at Falkirk Council, in the Fostering Network and at Mellow Parenting who have provided coaching and training for many years. We thank the European Union, UK Aid and Grand Challenges Canada who provided the financial input that allowed us to make this impact in Tajikistan.
For an independent evaluation of this project, please read the report by Dr Ian Milligan of the Centre for Excellence in Looked After Children, Scotland at the University of Strathclyde.