Podgorica/Bijelo Polje/Berane, 28-29 September 2015
British actor Nicholas Lyndhurst, famous for his role as Rodney Trotter in BBC’s TV series “Only Fools and Horses”, visited Montenegro for the second time after 2013, when he became a friend of the campaign “Every child needs a family”.
The campaign was launched by the Government and UNICEF in order to encourage people to become foster parents and end placing children in institutions in Montenegro.
Lyndhurst reminded citizens how important it is for every child to grow up in a safe family environment.
"Children need to grow up in a family. Happiness and joy, the feeling of belonging are essential for their normal growth and development. And, speaking as a father, I know it's hard work, it's the best job, sometimes it's the worst job, but it's certainly the best thing I have ever done," Lyndhurst said.
During his visit, Lyndhurst met with the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, foster parents and children who are in foster care. He also spoke at the promotions of fostering in Podgorica, Bijelo Polje and Berane, where all interested citizens and potential foster parents got detailed information about fostering.
"I have spoken today with the representatives of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare. I have spoken to children. I have spoken to foster parents and I am happy to say that visible progress has been made since my visit in 2013. More children without adequate parental care are placed in foster families now and they have been provided with much needed love and attention, so thank you for all you have done so far. I know, however, it is not an easy process, and I truly believe that Montenegro, off all places, can do better, I am sure of that", he added.
Central and Eastern Europe has one of the largest rates of institutional care of children in the world. Hence, the governments in this region signed a pledge to rapidly end placement of children under 3 in large scale institutions.
By 2017, Montenegro plans to completely eradicate institutional care of children under 3.
Benjamin Perks, UNICEF Montenegro Representative, pointed out that children need love to survive, thrive and develop.
"For a child to be abandoned or removed from his or her parents in the earliest days, weeks or months of childhood, is heartbreaking and deeply traumatic. The vision is clear and can be realized. Montenegro is one of the first countries in the region to completely eradicate institutional care of young children, but there is a difficult journey ahead and much more work needs to be done to address this key human rights challenge", Perks said.
Ensuring that every child grows up in a safe family environment is the fundamental goal of the ongoing child care system reform in Montenegro. The highest officials, both at the national and local level, promised to make the strengthening of foster care in Montenegro a key priority.
"We will continue with further strengthening of foster care within the framework of the extended family and with developing standard foster care with a special emphasis on children under three. We will also continue promoting various types of foster care, not only to adequately support all children who need this kind of support, but also in order to improve the position of foster carers", Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Zorica Kovacevic said.
Boris Mugosa, Deputy Mayor of Podgorica, pointed out that "we all have the same assignment", to work more, to work harder and more intensively, both individually and through joint activities.
"To promote the idea of foster care; to raise awareness that children really need a warm family environment, as well as to achieve the goal we are all striving to - that all the children under three grow up in families, and not in institutions", Mugosa added.
Foster parents from Podgorica, Berane and Bijelo Polje spoke about their experiences and invited citizens to become foster parents.
"I am a mother of three children and I have four grandchildren. While watching the fostering TV commercial, I realized that I could do it. Because I felt strong emotions which I couldn’t ignore. With the support from my husband Žarko, to whom I am very grateful, I have become a foster parent of three children", a foster parent from Podgorica Dragica Rakocevic said.
Abida Becirovic from Bijelo Polje spoke about her plan to become a foster parent.
“I live with my son and I want some other child to grow up in our home too. I want that child to be raised by our family, to feel loved and to feel like one of us. I want to make that child feel like he or she was born and grew up in our home", Becirovic said.
“We all have a corner in our homes which is empty and which can be filled with a child’s laughter", a foster parent from Berane Mila Vukovic said.
For Sandra Manojlovic, a child raised in a foster family, a foster family was the ideal family.
"It was a family where I had a happy and carefree childhood, and where I have grown up so well. The family in which I felt safe, above all, and where I was given love, attention, understanding and support", she explained.
At the end of his visit to Montenegro, Lyndhurst appealed to the people of Montenegro.
"I think that as human beings we are very, very, very good at loving. I think that is really what we want to do, deep down, to love and to help. And the people of Montenegro have a fantastic opportunity of doing just that, at the moment, with foster care. To open up your homes and open up your hearts, and just love another child", Lyndhurst concluded.
The campaign “Every child needs a family” is part of a wide-ranging social and child welfare system reform aimed at enabling every child to grow up in a safe family.