Like everyone right now, I wake up each morning shocked and dismayed by the horror of the war in Ukraine and the humanitarian crisis unfolding in front of our very eyes. Lumos, the children’s charity I founded fifteen years ago has been working with the Ukrainian government since 2013 to help transform the institutional care system there, which before the war housed 100,000 children – the highest number in Europe.
Lumos launched a fundraising appeal the day after the invasion and I’m so grateful to those who have donated so far. I’m matching donations up to £1m and the money raised will go directly to helping the thousands of children trapped by the fighting in Ukraine’s orphanages, unable to leave due to disability or lack of available family care. The conditions these children are facing are unimaginable, compounding the already present trauma of being confined to an institution in the first place.
As soon as the invasion began, the Ukrainian authorities prioritised evacuating as many children as possible from residential care, especially from institutions close to the front line of the conflict. This resulted in some children being placed back with their families of origin without the usual careful reintegration process1 or – where this was not possible – children were placed in emergency foster care. Other children have been moved to other institutions in Ukraine or have even been relocated to other countries.
But inevitably some children have been left behind in residential institutions, often because they have such profound and complex disabilities, it was not safe to quickly move them or to find appropriate family-based placements. Not only are these children at risk of being caught up in the war, but there are serious concerns they are also suffering from neglect due to staffing shortages and a lack of food and other essential resources.
Currently, Lumos is working directly with the Ukrainian authorities to help the most vulnerable children: those remaining in residential care; those placed in emergency foster care; those rapidly returned home to families without the right support in place; those living in families in vulnerable situations; and displaced children. The funds being donated to Lumos’ Ukraine Appeal are:
- Providing emergency food, hygiene and medicine kits
- Supporting the relocation of vulnerable children and ensure their care and protection
- Providing psychological support to parents, caregivers and children
- Supporting foster carers and emergency foster carers taking in children from orphanages
Lumos is also providing direct support to the authorities to help them improve monitoring of child protection risks and gaps. Lumos is deeply concerned that there is no centralised information management system to keep track of the whereabouts, safety and well-being of the 100,000 children from institutions. This creates immense child protection risks. Sometimes family members are not even informed about cross-border evacuations of children, which might result in long term child-family separation and lifelong negative consequences.
As this child protection emergency worsens, the plight of the millions of child refugees grows day by day. It’s reported to date more than 3.5m refugees have fled Ukraine and are crossing borders into neighbouring countries, sometimes unaccompanied. The displacement of children and family separation exposes children to all forms of neglect, abuse and puts them at risk of exploitation and trafficking and being housed in yet more institutions.
50% of the refugees entering Moldova, where Lumos also operates, are children, with growing numbers of children who are unaccompanied. Lumos is actively participating in national working groups and coordinating with NGOs and other authorities to find urgent solutions to child protection issues and resource shortages, and to address longer-term needs such as education and psychological support.
Lumos will continue to work with the Ukraine authorities and partners to ensure support is available to help the most vulnerable children and their families in Ukraine, and the refugees and displaced children in the surrounding countries.
Tragically, this war has destroyed countless childhoods in a matter of weeks, torn families apart and put at further risk those extremely vulnerable children still trapped in the institutions. Lumos’ mission is to give every child the chance to grow up in a family, by building community care and family support to replace orphanages and other institutions. Every child deserves to grow up in a loving, family environment – never has this been so important as now.
You can support the Lumos Ukraine Appeal here.
1Although misrepresented as ‘orphans’, most children in institutions do have at least one living parent.
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