During the Second World War Albania was occupied by the Germans, but liberated by the communist partisan army of Enver Hoxha in 1944. In 1946 he became president for the Peoples Republic of Albania. Until the fall of the communist regime Albania was the poorest country in Europe. The country had remained isolated and without support from the international community. As the last country in Eastern Europe the upheavals also reached Albania in 1990.
The showdown with Communism was not violent, but thousands of Albanians fled abroad. Today almost 3,4 million people live in Albania, but more Albanians live outside the borders of the country.
The infrastructure of Albania was organised according to Soviet ideals. Even though the country was poor, all adults had work and there was no starvation. Everybody had access to small health clinics in the local community and hospitals in the cities. Basic treatment took place within the families, but sufficient day nurseries, kindergartens and retirement homes existed to respond to demand. All children went to school for at least eight years and most of the adolescent got an education, although the state decided which.
Over the last years the public infrastructure has almost broken down completely. The police and the judicial system only function partly. Most of the national factories have been shut down and commercial businesses have been closed as a result of looting. The small health clinics and the village schools have only little resources. Almost all nurseries have been closed too and only a few kindergartens are still open. The schools and the universities still operate, but the education materials are sparse and outdated. Especially adolescents from the mountain villages head to the bigger cities for work, even though the employment opportunities are limited. There is a profound housing shortage and often young families occupy public buildings where they live illegally. The political situation is unstable and turmoil break out occasionally, while the mafia gains still more influence and power.
During the communist regime the state took care of children whose parents could not provide for them. The children were placed at institutions. Often ordinary children ended up in institutions due to the parents abuse of alcohol and narcotics, illness, death of family members or the shame of giving birth to a child born out of wedlock of marriage. In 1990 eighteen institutions for children existed including eight institutions for mentally and physically handicapped children. A total of 1800 children lived in these institutions. The residential institutions were divided according to the age of the children.
During the recent years Albania have been experiencing a restructuring with major consequences. Having been a totalitarian and almost closed country during the 1980s, the country has been exposed to the market economy without much preparation. At the same time the family traditions and the parents control with the adolescent have been weakened due to the influence of the Western commercialism. Many children and adolescent children loose both the social security of the state and their families. When it is difficult to get both education and employment, boys often end up in organised crime and gangs. Also the sexual début happens at an earlier age than before, leading to more teenage mothers and children born out of wedlock.
The Serbs aggressions towards the Albanian population in Kosovo were during September 1998 further extended, and thousands of ethnic Albanians crossed the border to the northern part of Albania. The refugees were accommodated in boarding schools and summer flats, and the children were temporary integrated in the Albanian school system. The Serbs intensified the ethnic cleansing during April 1999, and more than 365.000 Kosovo Albanians escaped to Albania. The inhabitants from the same villages and extended families with more than 30-40 members fled together. The Albanians received the refugees, but all vacant places were soon occupied. International humanitarian organisations and foreign governments came with tents, food and medical treatment, but the conflict will have a severe impact on the Albanian population.
Background for Save the Children Denmark's programme in Albania
Save the Children Denmark started delivering emergency aid to child hospitals and residential institutions in 1992. In 1993 the first rehabilitation project in Northern Albania was initiated and Save the Children Denmark established a local office in Shkoder. The project included renovation of a residential institution for infants as well as staff training in developmental psychology.
During 1995-1997 Save the Children Denmark implemented a project: Alternative residential institutions for children and alternatives to residential institutions for children. The purpose was to empower the most vulnerable groups of children in Albania by contributing to the development of a comprehensive and locally based organisation of the child institutions as well as to create alternatives to institutional placement for children with particular needs. A thorough renovation of a residential institution and a nursery/ kindergarten was carried out. A training programme focusing on pedagogic and developmental psychology was organised for the staff of all 24 kindergartens and 4 residential institutions. Furthermore a Family Counselling Centre was established in Shkoder.
In 1998 Save the Children Denmark developed the project in Shkoder further, especially focusing on alternative residential institutions for children aged 7-14/16 years. Experience from several years of work in Albania demonstrates, that the level of care and protection for the children have improved much. In Albania the family relations are tight and strong. Children without such relations are particular vulnerable and exposed. Save the Children Denmark aims at improving the living conditions and the life quality of the marginalised children and adolescent children both living in vulnerable families or in various residential institutions. Save the Children Denmark aims at extending and consolidating the preventive measures and expand the activities to more towns in the coming years.
Aid to children in need
Save the Children Denmark deliver emergency aid to children with particular needs when acute situations arise. In 1993 all children living in the residential institutions received a parcel with warm winter clothes, night clothes, boots and shoes and the residential institutions received a supply of washing detergent, soap and shampoo. The Local Committees of Save the Children Denmark delivered toys and sporting equipment. During the winter 1994 the conditions had worsened and more winter clothes was necessary. This year some milk powder and weaning food for infants were also delivered.
The Serb aggressions towards the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo during the summer of 1998 resulted in massive displacement. Women and children fled towards Albania seeking refuge with the poor mountain farmers. Approximately 10.000 refugees were transported to the lowlands while around 3.200 refugees including 1.600 children and adolescent stayed in the municipality of Shkoder. Most were offered lodging with the domestic Albanians, and others were offered lodging in temporary refugee centres. During the winter 1999 Save the Children Denmark delivered winter clothes to the refugee children. Save the Children Denmark also provided pedagogical materials and school books to allow the children to get temporarily integrated in the local Albanian society on equal terms with the domestic Albanian children.
Save the Children Denmark intensified the emergency support during April 1999. The beneficiaries were the 30.000 refugees, who were temporally sheltered in Shkoder county. Save the Children Denmark delivered clothing to children and hygienic kits to thousands of families in centres, tent camps or private accommodated. Save the Children Denmark will establish kindergartens and school classes in the camps. Save the Children Denmark will as well establish leisure time activities for refugee children in order to normalize the life and create a stable framework. Children and youngsters with traumas will get support from Save the Children Denmark pedagogues and psychologists, and separated children will unified with their relatives if possible.
Renovation of buildings
The residential institutions were not maintained for nearly a decade before the collapse of the Communist Regime.
An institution for 40 infants named the "H.C. Andersen Home" was renovated by October 1993. Earlier the rooms had been desolate and uniform. The infants used to lie in long rows tied up in blankets and the human contact with the staff was limited to feeding and washing. Instead the building was rebuilt to accommodate the facilities of a modern family institution. The rooms were decorated with warm and friendly colours and fitted with the personal belongings and toys for the children. A playground and several flowerbeds were built outside.
In 1995 the institution for children aged 3 to 6 years was totally renovated to accommodate 48 children. On the ground floor eating and playing rooms were organised and on the first floor separate dormitories. The kitchen, toilets, wash room and depots were fully modernised. Also a playground was built outside.
In 1996 a nursery/kindergarten was also rebuilt with large bright rooms and a secure outdoor playground. The intention was to create a model for all institutions.
Reorganisation of the institutional structure
The residential institutions are organised according to age, but the intention is to create an aged integrated system, including keeping brothers and sisters together. But the effort to carry out a thorough age integration of children from 1 year up to 14 years is impeded by the continued allocations of children from the Southern part of Albania to Shkoder.
The residential institution for children aged 7 to 14/16 years is only obliged to house the children until they have completed eight years of primary school. But often the children are not ready to sustain themselves alone. To compensate for this the leader of the institutions have allowed the children to stay at the institution until the age of 17/18 years. Furthermore a separate apartment has been organised in the institution to help prepare the adolescent for an independent life.
All of the staff are now actively involved in the development and care of the children.
Training and supervision of staff and adolescent
Previously the staff of the residential institutions primarily consisted of medical doctors and nurses as well as middle aged women taking care of cooking and cleaning. Care and developing activities were almost non-existent. A comprehensive and more professional psychological and pedagogical approach to the work with the children focusing on the individual child and its particular needs was much needed.
Since 1993 a number of courses and seminars on modern pedagogic, developmental psychology, hygiene and nutrition for approximately 120 persons from the staff of the institutions have been carried out. The training have been followed up by on-the-job training and instruction in best practices. To the leaders of the residential institutions and the Department for Social Affairs courses in modern management, leadership, human resources and cooperation with the parents were organised.
In 1997 another eight courses in pedagogic for a number of 160 participants from kindergartens in Shkoder were carried out to respond to the huge interest in the new pedagogical methods.
In 1998 six more courses were carried out for the entire staff from the residential institution for children aged 7 to 14/16 years. The topics were related to handling the problems of adolescent including identification of youngsters with particular needs, conflict coping and cooperation between parents and staff. Also six courses for adolescent from the residential institution were carried out and several workshops on cooking, carpentry and tailoring were established. Also a course in first aid was carried out.
In the future more leisure activities and training in practical skills for adolescent in need of particular support will be organised. It is the intention to support the adolescence by giving them the opportunity to interact with other adolescent around such activities as drama, arts and sports.
Co-operation with the university of Shkoder
Save the Children Denmark has cooperated with the university of Shkoder since 1995 to ensure, that the courses organised are integrated into the subjects of pedagogic and psychology at the university. Teachers from the university have furthermore been part of some of the seminars and helped establish a valuable cross sectional teamwork between the educational and the social sector.
Students of pedagogic and psychology have been offered the opportunity to work as trainees at the residential institutions in Shkoder. In periods of approximately three months the students have worked in the institution for infants as well as the institution for children from the age of 3 to 6 years under the supervision of a Danish project coordinator.
Exchange programmes for key persons
With the financial support of the Danish Democracy Fund exchange visits to Denmark in 1993 and 1996 were arranged for 65 persons. The participants were key persons from the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, the Department of Social Affairs, the residential institutions and the university of Shkoder. The purpose of the exchange visits to Denmark was to inspire the participants to innovative thinking in relation to the social work with children. The participants were also introduced to the concepts of modern democratic management and parental cooperation. The participants also visited small family based institutions, secured group homes, protected workshops and a municipality administration.
The Family Counselling Centre
In cooperation with the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare a Family Counselling Centre was established in 1996. The centre was accommodated in the kindergarten "Beb Tucha" and two social workers were employed to counsel parents. The parents were guided to the centre by the Department of Social Affairs in Shkoder or by information on the local radio and television network.
The purpose of the centre is primarily to prevent institutional placement of children as well as to advocate and facilitate the reunification of children living in institutions with their biological families or kin. The centre receives a lot of inquiries from single young mothers without education or residence experiencing extreme difficulties in coping with life without the support and acceptance of their families. Also the social workers are challenged to mediate and resolve conflicts. Many parents in acute crisis also inquire for assistance. The reason being the death, divorce, hospitalisation or imprisonment of a family member. The centre can allocate ten children from families in acute crisis to a place free of charge at the kindergarten. This option is constantly in use and has prevented several children from being placed in institutions.
The social workers also carry out field work. The adolescent often constitute a particular vulnerable group once they have left the institutions. The social workers educate the children on issues such as educational opportunities, contraception, employment opportunities etc. In the future it is the intention to offer these children concrete educational solutions and leisure time activities. Furthermore it is also the intention to help organise the single mothers with infants who often live isolated from local social networks. These networks then form the basis for educational activities on such issues as nutrition, hygiene, health and other aspects of raising a child.
The centre also intents to support the establishment of alternative solutions to placement in residential institutions during the following three years. The work should result in the establishment of support families for children living in residential institutions without any contact to their biological families or kin. It is the intention to educate a network of ordinary resourceful families to offer vacations and weekend stays for these children. Kosovo Albanians will also have access to the centre.
Reunification of children and parents
The most important task of the Family Counselling Centre is to reunify children living in institutions with their parents or biological kin without jeopardising the welfare of the child. Every child in the institutions have an individual index card containing personal information. Using these cards the social workers try to identify the biological parents of the child. If a contact to the family is established and this turns out positively, the social worker will take steps to carry out the reunification. This involves assistance in the form of food, clothes or perhaps a bed or money to buy the necessary equipment. For a period of one year the social worker then monitors the child and its family assisting further if necessary.
In 1998 eleven infants living in institutions were reunified with their biological families. Another six children are waiting for reunification with their families during the spring of 1999. Even if concrete reunification is not feasible it is very valuable if the family merely visits or writes to the child. In 1998 nineteen contacts between children and their families were established.
Operation of children with physical handicaps
A number of children living in the institutions have minor physical handicaps. But the institutions do not have the financial funds for operation or treatment of these children. Many children could easily be operated and Save the Children Denmark's Local Committees have donated funds for operations of cross-eyed children at the local hospital in Shkoder. The health system in Albania is financed by the government but medicine and treatment have to be paid in cash instantly. Many poor families cannot afford to have their children operated so Save the Children Denmark support the operations with cash grants.
Compliance with the tenets of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
Albania has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992. The Government wish to comply with the tenets of the Convention, but to do so a number of law revisions and operational measures are needed. Save the Children Denmark contribute to the development of a general policy on children.
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