PODGORICA, 14-15 October 2013
Famous British actor Nicholas Lyndhurst joined UNICEF in Montenegro to support the Every Child Needs a Family campaign. The actor is extremely popular in Montenegro for his playing the role of Rodney Trotter in the BBC TV comedy “Only Fools and Horses”. The TV star became a celebrity-friend of the campaign “Every child needs a family” initiated by UNICEF and the Government, with EU support, in order to recruit foster parents and end placing children in institutions in Montenegro.
"Fostering is a wonderful option that can be taken in the best interest of children if they are not able to be with their biological parents. I see how foster families can give support, care, love and have a positive impact on children's lives," famous actor Nicholas Lyndhurst said during his 2-day visit to Montenegro.
Central and Eastern Europe has one of the largest rates of institutional care of children in the world and recently governments in the region signed a pledge to rapidly end placement of children under 3 in large scale institutions.
During his 2-day visit, Lyndhurst met with foster parents and children with and without disabilities, took part in a special event with young people, UNICEF and government representatives in the oldest theatre in Montenegro, visited a local inclusive school and talked to the students from the Drama Faculty. He also participated in the open days of the centres for social welfare in Cetinje and Podgorica, where all interested citizens and potential foster parents were welcomed and provided with detailed information about fostering.
“If my presence can stop one child from going into an institution or can have one foster parent say “Yes, we'll have another child” or “We'll have two of them” then I've done my job,” Lyndhurst pointed out and added that he sees the campaign helping Montenegro to “leading the charge in getting rid of the institutional places that the children have to go into. I think it's time to rethink that idea and I think the Montenegrin people are leading the way in doing that.”
UNICEF Montenegro Representative Benjamin Perks, whose idea was to invite Lyndhurst as people kept asking him about this sitcom ever since he came to the country 2 years ago, pointed out to the reasons behind this campaign. "It is hard to find a decision a government can make that has more impact on the human rights of an individual than the ones it has to make when a baby goes into the care of the state. More than 50 years of research show that children placed in institutions in early childhood are at risk of psychological, emotional and physical developmental delays, which can only be recuperated by the care of a loving family environment-preventing abandonment in the first place and expanding fostering as the main alternative are much better options.”
On this occasion, UNICEF also welcomed prof. Kevin Browne, Chair of Forensic Psychology and Child Health at the University of Nottingham, who presented scientific evidence about the detrimental effects of institutional care on child development and the benefits of foster care.
“The most important thing in the early childhood is having a one-to-one relationship with a caregiver who invests time and energy in interacting and teaching social skills so necessary for the rest of your life,” professor Browne emphasized. He explained how child abandonment can be prevented by providing support to parents starting from the primary health care centres and maternity wards. For children who cannot grow up with their biological family another caring family environment must be provided.
For this reason, according to the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Predrag Bošković, the principle of family based care for every child is at the core of the ongoing child welfare reform in Montenegro. “This campaing is just a part of what UNICEF and the Government of Montenegro will do together in the future in order to promote fostering,“ Bošković concluded.
A foster parent Mija Kovačević, who spoke about her experience at the special event with Nicholas in Cetinje's theatre, invited citizens to visit children in institutions: “I think they should go to the institution to see it and imagine if those were their own children. I did just that and I immediately decided to become a foster parent”.
Lyndhurst also appealed to the people of Montenegro: “I would like to encourage citizens of Montenegro to get more information and to apply to become foster parents, so all children can grow up in a family and develop to their full potential”. His words were echoed by all the national and local media throughout the country, as well as by hundreds of his fans who showed up regularly at every event to talk and take photos with him.
The campaign “Every Child Needs a Family” is organized within the project “Social Welfare and Child Care System Reform - Enhancing Social Inclusion” implemented by the Government of Montenegro, with the technical assistance from UNICEF and UNDP and the financial support of the European Union.