The SOS Children's Village is located in Valmiera, a town of 30,000 inhabitants, which is in the region of Vidzeme. The village will not be completely finished until the end of March, but three family houses are already complete and ready for people to live in them. The first six children, including twins Lasma and Kaspars and ten-year-old Liana, moved into their new home with SOS mother Astrida on 26 February. Astrida has already known "her" children since December, when she began to visit them regularly when they were living with their foster family in a children's home. In the beginning, the children were shy and withdrawn, but they are now very close to each other. The coming months will be an exciting time, when the family of seven will settle into their new life and more families will move into the SOS Children's Village.
Latvia's second SOS Children's Village opens ten years after the opening of the SOS Children's Village in Islice, which is very much welcomed by the local social services. "Children from Valmiera can now stay in an environment with which they are familiar. In the past we had to find a place for them in other regions of Latvia. They can now live nearer to their relatives, which means that we can work more effectively with their biological families. If a child lived in an orphanage anywhere in the country, it often meant the end of the parent-child relationship", says Ivita Pukite from the local social welfare office.
The authorities have great expectations for the SOS Children's Village and think that the educational concept provides a new level of quality in care. Children in Valmiera end up in out-of-home care for more or less the same reasons as in other large towns in Latvia. According to Ivita Pukite, these are "alcohol abuse, as well as both physical and emotional violence." Her colleague Iveta Vi adds: "We are talking about people who have not survived the transition from socialism to capitalism, they are unemployed and have given up - the children are the ones who suffer the most from it."
Discussions are also being held with the authorities about the possibility of SOS Children's Villages setting up a family-strengthening programme in Valmiera. It would mean that targeted work could be carried out with families in crisis and would prevent children from being separated from their parents in the first place. One such programme has now been in place in Islice for three years, meaning that families troubled by alcoholism and domestic violence, as well as young single mothers, can receive advice.
More than 5,000 children are currently growing up in the 100 SOS Children's Villages in Europe. Around 80% of the children still have one or both parents. The most common reasons for them being taken into the villages are: their parents or mother can no longer cope (in many cases because the fathers do not support them), mental illness, the divorce or separation of their parents, neglect and abuse of children and young people.
In Europe, as on other continents, the family-strengthening programmes therefore play an important complementary role, since targeted, intensive advice and support for parents mean that many children are able to remain with their biological families. Around 48,000 children in Europe are currently being supported as part of the programme and a focus is being placed on Eastern Europe, the Baltic States and the former Soviet Union. According to estimates, around 1.3 million children are receiving institutional care in this region. For many of them, living in a children's home, as is still common, would not be necessary or could be avoided if the necessary support were available. On the other hand, there is an urgent need for alternative family-like educational forms of care such as foster families and SOS families to solve the misery of children's homes in the region in the long term.