"Edelweiss", the last old-school establishment in the Olt County, was closed

On July 15, 2016, the "Edelweiss" Centre from Balș, the last child protection old-school type of establishment in the Olt County was closed on the framework of a partnership between the General Directorate of Social Assistance and Child Protection in Olt (DGASPC) and Hope and Homes for Children Romania.

The partnership for closing of the "Edelweiss" Centre began in 2013 with the opening of a small group home in the town of Slatina. This small group home for children with special needs was built by Hope and Homes for Children with the help of Natalie Pinkham, special reporter for Formula 1 in the UK. When she was about 20 years old and a student, Natalie was a volunteer in an old-school type of institution in Slatina where she met Mirela. She was marked by the living conditions at the establishment, by the hundreds of children deprived of identity and affection and, especially, by Mirela, the kid she was going to hold in her heart for many years.

In 2011, Natalie returned to Slatina to see Mirela again, on whom life at the establishment had left a deep imprint on: she was longing for love and human interaction, she did not learn to speak or walk properly, she was not socializing, and she was lacking basic skills such as washing and dressing which made her trapped in the body and mind of a small child. Natalie felt then that she must do more to fight to change anything really. She got in touch with Hope and Homes for Children and together they decided to build a small group home where Mirela and 11 other children could leave behind the trauma of institutionalization. She raised funds, attracted supporters from the highest levels and was involved in every stage of the project development. In 2013, around Christmas, the new home of Mirela and 11 other children was inaugurated in the presence of Natalie.

Four of the children moved into the new house in Slatina came from the "Edelweiss" Centre for children and youth with special needs. With the relocation of children in Slatina the organization has learned that the closing of the Balș institution was included in the DGASPC strategy, and for each child had to be found the best solution. At the start of the partnership between DGASPC Olt and Hope and Homes for Children, in the institution, which had a capacity of 120 seats, were 41 children and young people between 5 and 26 years old with severe, moderate, and mild special needs. Of the 41 children and young people, 8 were supported to integrate socially and professionally, 6 receiving direct support from Hope and Homes for Children (rent for a period of three months, vouchers for food, advice on identifying and maintaining employment), 1 child returned to the family, which Hope and Homes for Children supported by acquiring equipment to get the family generate income from agriculture, 10 children and young people moved into a small group home in Balș, 4 young people were transferred to the small group apartments in Balș, 4 in the small group home in "Mugurel" from Slatina, 1 in Caracal, 4 were moved to a Care and Support Centre for adults with disabilities (CIA) in Caracal, 2 in Șopârlița, 1 child at Corabia, 4 at Slatina, and 2 children were moved at the Integration Centre through Occupational Therapy at Drăgăneşti.

Besides identifying the best options for the transfer of children and the young, Hope and Homes for Children specialists supported the assessments for all children and social surveys of those who have been reintegrated into families, visited the services where children were transferred, attended individual meetings with the DGASPC team on case management, and have worked with the social worker and psychologist from "Edelweiss" as well as with members of the staff to assess the decisions that were taken.

With the closing of the "Edelweiss" establishment, the Olt County joins Maramureș, Hunedoara and Alba Counties as well as district 6 in Bucharest, which no longer have old-school system child protection establishments.

Following the inauguration of the small group home in Slatina in 2013, Gabriela Ghiroltean, psychologist and coordinator of the opening of the small group home in Slatina and of the closing of the "Edelweiss" centre, wrote a letter to journalist Natalie Pinkham about the need to close the old establishments and about empathy, mentioning her perseverance and courage to believe that a child's life can change for the better.

Rădița Piroșca, General Director of DGASPC Olt, said of the closing of "Edelweiss": "From July 15 this centre will be closed. On the same site where the "Edelweiss" is now located we will build a complex that will include three structures: a rehabilitation centre for children with disabilities, a day care centre for children with disabilities, where children in small homes or in foster care can receive specific education, such as personal development courses, enhance their skills and abilities of cohabitation, and a counselling center."