Caroline Cook’s dream to close down all the orphanages in Romania will soon become reality

On May 17, the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, signed the official decree to decorate Hope and Homes for Children Founders Mark and Caroline Cook and regional director for Central and South Europe Ștefan Dărăbuș. The three have become Knights of the Faithful Service order, as a token of “appreciation for the remarkable and constant activity to the benefit of the Romanian child protection system reform and for their hard work to ensure the financing of dedicated programmes”.

Hope and Homes for Children is a global organisation founded in the UK in 1994 by Mark and Caroline Cook. The couple set up an organisation that aimed at rebuilding the orphanages that had been destroyed in the Bosnian War. Working with the children in orphanages, they realised that the needs of orphan or abandoned children could not in fact be fulfilled in such institutions: what they needed was the love and care of a family. Impressed by the images showing the children in the 90’s Romanian orphanages, Mark and Caroline decided to offer their support to solving this problem. Hope and Homes for Children became active in Romania in 1998, when over 100,000 children lived in such orphanages. Today, only 6,500 children remain in such old-type institutions.

In its 20 years’ activity in Romania, Hope and Homes for Children have contributed to the closing down of 55 old-type institutions, another 15 are currently being closed down, and 5,185 children have been removed from orphanages. Children growing up in orphanages exhibit physical, emotional, social and cognitive developmental delays. And young people coming out of these institutions are faced with the inability to become independent, which makes them easy targets for abuse, exploitation and trafficking; or they can develop forms of anti-social behaviour.

Over 1,000 young people have received support to start an independent life and almost 2,000 children have been received in day centres. With the support of partners and local authorities, Hope and Homes for Children have developed 101 small group homes, where over 1,200 children and young people coming from placement centres live in an environment that is closer to family life. Small group homes accommodate a maximum of 10 to 12 children and/or young people. Here, they receive care, education, emotional counselling and support, which equips them with skills towards living an independent life.

Since 2001, in addition to the closing down of old-type institutions, Hope and Homes for Children is running a programme aimed at preventing child-family separation: so far, 28,436 children have managed to remain with their families through the efforts of the Foundation and its partners.

This year, when the Foundation is celebrating 20 years of activity in Romania, the decorations granted by the Romanian president to the Hope and Homes for Children founders, Mark and Caroline Cook, and to the regional director for Central and South Europe, are the most important recognition of the contribution of Hope and Homes for Children to the child protection system reform. The mission of Hope and Homes for Children is to close down all the orphanages in Romania by 2026.

“What we discovered in Romania, 20 years ago, shocked and saddened us and had a profound impact on our own future lives. With Stefan Dărăbuș, now our Regional Director for Central and Southern Europe, we discovered 60 infants hidden away on the top floor of the hospital in the town of Cavnic. They were lying silently in cots covered in their own filth.  We were shocked, as if by an electric current, and we realised that we had to rescue them.  This was the spark that set us on the path of deinstitutionalisation. The success of our work in Romania is largely due to our all-Romanian team who have demonstrated amazing compassion, courage and commitment to totally transform the childcare system in the country, together with state officials at all levels who have supported their action. Sadly, there are numerous countries in the world where children are still placed in orphanages, but Romania leads the world in its demonstration of how it is possible to transform such systems by freeing children from state institutions and getting them back to the love of families. Caroline had the dream to close every orphanage in Romania and soon her dream will come true.” - Mark Cook Hope and Homes for Children founder

“The trauma of being abandoned is terrible and many children in our country have suffered it. Because I knew what it meant, I have dedicated the past 20 years of my life to children in orphanages. My colleagues have done the same – we have a dream team here, they are a group of absolutely special people, who can move mountains if they put their mind to it. Back in 1998, about 100,000 children were barely surviving a nightmare, they were living their lives in orphanages that were more like concentration camps. Every day, I was a witness to so much pain, so much sadness and despair, so much resignation and capitulation in the paediatrics sections of maternity wards, in the so-called cradle homes for babies and infants under three, in all the other institutions – I only wanted it all to stop.  Now, walking the streets, I meet young adults who have taken control over their lives, who are on the right track also due to us. We gave them a family. We moved them into the hundreds of small group homes that we have built. We placed them in foster care, we helped them reunite with their families, or they were adopted. All in all, from 100,000 children in orphanages back then, we are now down to fewer than 7,000. And they too will end up with families or at least in a family-like environment. In 20 years, we have saved, in a way, about 50,000 children.” - Ștefan Dărăbuș, regional director for Central and South Europe, Hope and Homes for Children