Previous writing: « Contribution: A love letter to Europe
Next writing: Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope Human Rights Award 2019 – Acceptance Speech »
Index ID: FWFWH — Publication date: November 2019
Previous writing: « Contribution: A love letter to Europe
Next writing: Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope Human Rights Award 2019 – Acceptance Speech »
Index ID: MSGGTHNKSL — Publication date: December 17th, 2016
As we plan to celebrate this festive season with our families, please spare a thought for the estimated 8 million children who are in institutions worldwide. For many, Christmas is just another day in a cold, destitute place, where they are scared and alone, often hungry. For all it is another day without the love of a family or any affection at all.
Lumos is working to change the lives of these children every single day. Your extraordinary support of our We Are Lumos Worldwide campaign this year – whether you donated your time or money, raised awareness or attended one of our amazing fundraising events – made it possible for more children to be home with families for their very first real Christmas. You have helped us come closer to reaching our goal of ending the institutionalization of children by 2050, and for that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Please continue to support Lumos and help us to spread the word. Together we can give these children what every child needs and deserves – the love of a family.
Previous writing: « Blind Pig
Next writing: Welcome to my new website! »
Index ID: LCBR — Publication date: June 30th, 2016
A charm bracelet seems a very innocent trinket. What other piece of jewellery is so imbued with memory and sentiment? Why do we call those little masterpieces “charms” if not in allusion to their talismanic properties? They have meaning beyond the mercenary. They are personal amulets.
Lumos is a spell I created in HARRY POTTER that brings light to a desperately dark and frightening place.
At Lumos this is just what we do: we reveal the hidden children locked away behind closed doors and forgotten by the world, so that everyone first of all understands the problem and then works together to fix it.
Previous writing: « On Monsters, Villains and the EU Referendum
Next writing: Violent Femmes album for RAM »
Index ID: FWLA14 — Publication date: November 2015
EIGHT million children around the world languish ininstitutions and so-called orphanages, though the vastmajority are not in fact orphans but have at least oneliving parent. Why orphanages are full of non-orphansis a question that Lumos continues to ask, and keyanswers – poverty, confict, disability and lack of access toservices that help keep children in families – come backtime and again. There is compelling scientifc evidenceto show that institutional care – separating children fromloving engagement by parents and families – harms achild’s physical, intellectual and emotional development.Research also makes clear that those raised in institutionalcare sufer poor life and health prospects. Societies andcommunities also sufer the social and economic fall-outof an out-dated ‘care’ system that harms the very childrenit is supposed to protect.
The evidence-based argument has been widely acceptedin the European region, where Lumos has worked overthe last decade to tackle a legacy of State-providedinstitutions, in a culture where separating children fromparents became the standard response to families incrisis. We talk of a ‘tipping point’ in Europe becausemost countries have some form of commitment todeinstitutionalisation (DI).
At Lumos, we now believe the evidence is so clear thatwe can take our DI mission onto the global stage – tochallenge the decades-old notion that orphanages are‘good’ or at least ‘necessary’ for children in adversity.They are not and we now know enough about the harmto see that there is a better way. This will be a challengefor many generous people who have supported, or evenworked in, orphanages, and believe they are safe, wellequipped havens for children in a threatening world. Weare confdent in arguing that the solution is not prettymurals, comfer beds, or teddy bears. The solution is noinstitutions or orphanages.
In 2014 Lumos established a platform – with the people,skills, expertise and passion – to enable us to startto make that argument around the world in pursuitof our ambitious but achievable goal of ending theinstitutionalisation of children worldwide by 2050.
It was at such an infuential Lumos policy event in 2014 –In Our Lifetime, focusing on the role of global aid fundingto bring closer the end of institutions and orphanages –that I met Dumitriţa from Moldova, who had lived in aninstitution for fve years. She is one of the 14,280 childrenwho have been reunited with her family thanks to thework of Lumos.
Listening to her speak about her experiences wasprofoundly moving. It was also a powerful message topolicy makers who heard her that change is not onlypossible, it is imperative. Her personal story encapsulatesthe aspirations of the millions of children we work tohelp; giving them a voice is a fundamental part of ourmission. Our aim is that, in their lifetimes, all children willenjoy a family life, which they need and deserve. 2014was the year in which I became Life President of Lumos,a commitment I was proud to make and in taking up thisnew role I handed over the baton of responsibility forchairing the Board of Trustees of Lumos to Neil Blair. I didso with confdence in the Trustees, in our indefatigableCEO Georgette Mulheir, and in the talented staf at Lumos,and in the knowledge that Lumos enjoys the invaluable,continuing support of many partners and generous donors.
Previous writing: « Why Dumbledore went to the hilltop
Next writing: Wizarding Schools »
Index ID: ORPHFT — Publication date: December 17th, 2014
It was a black-and-white photograph in a newspaper. It showed a small boy, locked in a caged bed in a residential institution. His hands clutched what appeared to be chicken wire containing him, and his expression was agonised. There would be no Lumos – the charity dedicated to closing child institutions and so-called orphanages – if there hadn’t first been this picture. I knew the immediate shameful impulse to turn away, to hide the page, not to look.
I could try to justify that impulse by saying that I was pregnant at the time, feeling vulnerable and hormonal. The sad truth remains that my instinctive reaction to that picture could stand as a metaphor for the attitude that has enabled the unjustifiable incarceration of 8 million children around this world to take place with little outrage or comment. Ashamed of that reflexive refusal to look, I forced myself to turn back to the picture and read the article. It told of a nightmarish institution where children as young as six were caged most of the day and night. I ripped the article out, and the following day I began writing letters to everybody I could think of with influence in the matter.
These efforts led quickly to the establishment of Lumos, named for the spell I created in Harry Potter to bring light to some dark and frightening places. Part of our work in Lumos is to shed light on the lives of those millions of children separated from their families for reasons of poverty, disability and discrimination.
The shocking truth is that the vast majority of these children have parents that could care for them. They are not orphans. Most are placed in institutions by families who are too poor to provide for them, or because of a lack of local education and health facilities, especially for children with special needs. The minority who do not have parents, or for whom staying at home is not in their best interests, are often placed in institutions because there is no alternative.
The idea of any child being taken from their family and locked away, all too often in atrocious conditions, is particularly poignant at this time of year. For children in institutions, life too often resembles the darkest of Grimms’ fairytales. Georgette Mulheir, CEO of Lumos, tells how one Christmas she took sweets to the 270 children in a particular institution. What she discovered there was nightmarish. It was minus 25 outside, the heating was broken, children lay shivering in their beds, dressed in all their clothes, wrapped in threadbare blankets.
Again and again, when I quote the statistics to people who are not familiar with the field – 8 million children separated from their families worldwide – they are aghast and disbelieving. “How could that happen,” they ask, “without the whole world knowing?” The answer is really quite simple: who is easier to silence than a child? Especially a child with mental or physical disabilities, who is taken away from a family that has been convinced that it is for the best, or whose only alternative is watching that child starve.
There is now a wealth of scientific proof that institutions cause children measurable and sometimes irreparable harm. Institutionalised children are far less likely to be educated and to be physically or mentally well. Malnutrition is all too common. They are many more times likely to be abused or trafficked. The effects on infants are particularly chronic, with many failing to thrive, or dying.
The impact of not having the love and attention of a dedicated carer is profound. It can cause stunting, developmental delays and psychological trauma. I have seen babies who have learned not to cry because nobody comes. I have met children so desperate for affection that they will crawl into any stranger’s lap.
Damage is done very early, and it is lasting. Cut off from society, institutionalised children return to the world with their chances of a happy, healthy life greatly impaired, often unable to find employment, excluded from the community and more likely to enter into a lifetime of poverty and dependency.
A crucial point is that these dire effects apply to children from all kinds of institutions, including those that are well resourced. The solution is not pretty murals, or comfier beds, or teddy bears. The solution is no institutions.
The good news is that this is an entirely solvable problem. Based on the successes already achieved in several countries, Lumos estimates that the institutionalisation of children can be eradicated globally by 2050 – in our lifetime.
Where there is investment in inclusive education and health, where vulnerable families receive support for poverty, employment and social and medical problems; where there are fostering, adoption or other family-based care alternatives for children who cannot be with their parents; and where the culture of institutionalisation is replaced by one that prioritises keeping families together, children can thrive within their own families and communities.
International donors play a vital role in this regard. The issues they choose to fund, and the principles they promote, greatly influence what support is available to children and families.
Ending the practice of keeping children in institutions isn’t just a moral imperative: it makes excellent economic sense. It is far more cost-effective to support a child in a family than in an institution – and this also reduces long-term costs, since these children are far less likely to become dependent in adulthood. We know our model works. Since Lumos began working in Moldova in 2007, there has been a 70% reduction in the number of children in institutions nationally, despite chronic political instability and Moldova’s standing as the poorest country in Europe.
In the Czech Republic, while the numbers of children being admitted into institutions has dropped by 16% nationally in the past year, in Lumos’s demonstration area they have achieved a 75% fall in admissions. It is eminently possible that by 2020 there will be no more children in institutions in the Czech Republic.
Since Lumos began working in Bulgaria, the number of children in institutions has reduced by 54%. New admissions to institutions in Bulgaria have fallen by 34%, and the number of foster carers has increased by 440%, from 357 to more than 1600, providing the much-needed family environments for children who would otherwise be in institutions.
This is a critical time for getting children out of institutions. The commitments made by the EU, the US and the Global Alliance for Children – a grouping of public and private aid donors, and NGOs, of which Lumos is a key member – have set an important precedent for other donors. There is now a critical mass of expertise and evidence on which we can all build.
Many millions of people around the world want to see an end to the harmful and unnecessary practice of institutionalisation. Everyone has a role to play in that regard, which is precisely the idea behind the social media campaign #letstalklumos launched last month. Keeping this issue alive and creating awareness is a vital part of changing the future for these children.
I recently committed to becoming president of Lumos for life. It is my dream that, within my lifetime, the very concept of taking a child away from its family and locking it away will seem to belong to a cruel, fictional world.
Previous writing: « Potions
Next writing: Vampires »
Index ID: FWLA13 — Publication date: November 2014
2013 was a year of significant achievement by Lumos on multiple levels, reflecting the scope and expertise ofour team of dedicated professionals.
We reached the encouraging point where the child population of institutions in Eastern European nations inwhich we work has reduced by nearly 40% over the last five years; the figure in Moldova is a remarkable 62%.This means institutions are closing and many thousands of children are returning to their families, homes andcommunities.
Our teams, harnessing professional expertise, intervened to help save the lives of scores of children who were atrisk of death from malnutrition in institutions. Supported by Lumos, young people with intellectual disabilitiespresented their demands for change in their lives at international conferences. In Moldova, 40% of schoolsnow have staff dedicated to the special educational needs of children who might previously have been ininstitutions – thanks to Lumos’ influence. These are but a few of 2013’s achievements, as we have demonstratedrobust, workable models that have been replicated in a number of countries.
Deinstitutionalisation (DI) – the technical name for a life-enhancing process that transforms children’s lives – isnot just about closing buildings. It is about the reform of entire care systems, to ensure they are able to meetthe needs of ALL children, and which ensure the families crucially can stay together. This needs funding andpolitical will which is why our work at the international level is so crucial to realising our vision of a world freefrom harmful institutions for children
In 2013 we saw the results of four years of collaborative diplomacy and advocacy to ensure that EuropeanUnion funding for Member States must be used to build family and community-based care. We have alreadyinfluenced the use of more than €350 million and there is huge potential to influence the use of humanitarianaid to end institutionalisation worldwide.
This year also saw significant growth for Lumos as an organisation. We have hard-working teams in Bulgaria,Moldova and Czech Republic and we look forward to a time when we can build on our initial work in Ukraine.At the same time, we are preparing to take our mission onto the global stage. Our operations in the UK havebeen enhanced to provide support for our international teams.
We have always aimed to be a reliable ‘critical friend’ to nations seeking to close institutions – an authoritative,expert guide through a complex process. Our 2013 achievements show just how expert and influential Lumoshas become. There is still much to be done to transform the lives of eight million children in institutionsworldwide – including raising awareness and challenging the misconception around the world thatorphanages are ‘necessary’ and ‘good’ for children in adversity, which they are not.
The evidence from 2013 fills me with confidence that Lumos – with the invaluable, continuing support of ourpartners and donors – will meet those challenges admirably.
Previous writing: « Azkaban
Next writing: Cokeworth »
Index ID: INS3CB — Publication date: December 2013
I was a plain and freckly five-year-old when I received the first and I had never been given anything more beautiful in my life. A heavy silver chain with a heart-shaped clasp, it was crammed with clinking charms including a wishing-well charm, a fat Spanish donkey and, my favourite by far, a filigree egg that opened to reveal a tiny bird.
As I sat playing with it, wholly engrossed, one of my great-aunts – I cannot remember which – spoke over my head.
They were really rather remarkable women, these great-aunts: half-French, highly educated and independent. Gladys, the elder, was an unmarried primary school teacher who spent her holidays travelling the world alone. The story is told in our family of a small boy who turned up to Auntie Gladys’ class with a swollen, bloody ear. At the end of the school day, she walked him home and confronted his heavy-fisted father with threats of official retribution. We do not run much to height in our family; Gladys was five foot in her heels. They say – and I fervently hope it’s true – that the boy never came to school injured again.
Ivy, the younger sister, was a teacher of Classics, a smoker and an atheist who had married a professor of physics. Thinking back, I have a suspicion that it was Ivy who said that no really nice woman likes jewellery. She was always very kind to me and I doubt that she expected her words to make such an impression, but what I gained that afternoon along with my new set of clinking charms was an association between wickedness and jewellery that has never entirely left me.
And yet a charm bracelet seems a very innocent trinket, really. What other piece of jewellery is so imbued with memory and sentiment? Why do we call those little masterpieces ‘charms’ if not in allusion to their talismanic properties? They have meaning beyond the mercenary. They are personal amulets.
I owned my adored and beloved bracelet for 20 years until one day a burglar broke into the flat where I was living in Manchester, emptied my old wooden jewellery box and smashed it apart for good measure. I lost not just the bracelet, but the modest collection of jewellery I had inherited from my mother, who had died a mere three months previously.
Compared to the loss of my mother, it was nothing, and yet I was devastated. Jewellery does not change, it cannot decay; it is a way of holding tight to the past. To this day, I glance through shop windows at old jewellery in the vague hope that among the tarnished silver I will catch sight of that filigree egg.
Auntie Ivy might have approved of the next charm bracelet that I owned, because it came to me by way of hard work, which is something she valued highly. On the day that the seventh Harry Potter book was to be released, my editor, Emma, and the head of Bloomsbury children’s books, Sarah, met me in London and gave me a small package to open. Inside was what would become (aside from my wedding ring) my most treasured piece of jewellery: a bracelet covered in gold and silver charms from the books. There was a tiny Golden Snitch, a silver Ford Anglia, a Pensieve and a stag Patronus. There was even a Philosopher’s Stone in the form of an uncut garnet.
Unfortunately, my personal Philosopher’s Stone did not last the night. Somewhere during an eight-hour signing session it must have broken against the table, because when I got home the following morning it was gone. Vaguely, in my tiredness, it seemed a portent. The series was finished and it was time to move on.
The Harry Potter books are full of dangerous sparkling objects, and in this, they are like the fairy tales of every culture in the world. Fabulous treasures that can destroy or heal are a staple of folk stories, as ubiquitous as the lost and abandoned children that wind their way through the genre. And this brings us to the dark part of my story, to the part that is a place where there is nothing pretty or sparkly at all.
In 2004 I was pregnant with my third child and second daughter. Leafing through The Sunday Times one day, I came across the picture of a small boy screaming through the wire of what seemed to be a cage.
It was a profoundly disturbing image and my only excuse is that I was hormonal and emotional. I made to turn the page, but shame somehow stopped me. A voice in my head said: ‘Read the article and if it’s as bad as it looks, do something about it.’ Perhaps it was the shade of my Auntie Gladys, who did not turn her back on terrified little boys. I read on.
The boy in the picture had special needs and he was living in an institution in the Czech Republic. He never saw his family. His place of confinement was a caged bed, essentially a cot enclosed with wire. Apart from having his nappy changed once in a while, human contact was virtually non-existent. The report and the picture had been obtained covertly by an undercover reporter.
The next day I started writing letters of protest.
Like many others, I had assumed that the harrowing images of Romanian ‘orphanages’ of the 1990s represented a problem that had been solved. Precisely how wrong I was can be stated best by a few figures.
Eight million children currently live in such institutions around the world. More than 90 per cent are not orphans, but have living parents. Most are separated from their families as a result of grinding poverty, or a lack of community-based services for children with disabilities.
Children who have grown up in such institutions are 10 times more likely than their peers to be involved in prostitution or to be trafficked. They are 40 times more likely to have a criminal record and 500 times more likely to commit suicide.
Eight years ago, I co-founded the charity Lumos. Its ambitious goal is to end institutionalisation, but this is a complex task – you can’t just take the institution away. However, Lumos works with experts in the field and is leading the way in transforming how governments and communities think about looking after vulnerable children.
The same money spent on poor quality care in institutions can, in fact, run all the community services needed to prevent any more children being condemned to these terrible places. What is needed is the political will, the replacement of social and children’s services, proper education systems – and of course the money to do all this.
Since Lumos began, we have helped governments to take more than 7,000 children out of institutions.
We have prevented the deaths of more than 200 extremely vulnerable children with disabilities who were not receiving the care they needed in those institutions. We have helped the EU change its rules on how it uses money to reform health, education and social services. With guidance developed by Lumos, governments in 11 countries are putting in place action plans to close their institutions and replace them with community services. We have developed a toolkit for EU governments and EC officials on how to use EU funds to get children out of institutions and into families; we have given advice on deinstitutionalisation to organisations as far afield as Haiti and Malaysia, and we have trained more than 10,000 social workers, teachers, nurses and carers to provide better services for the most vulnerable children.
One final, dreadful statistic: every year in Europe – every year – a million children simply disappear.
Fairy tales explore the darkest fears of the human heart: the terrifying possibility of losing our families, of being alone and abandoned in dark places, late at night. Fairy tales have neat, happy conclusions, but back in the real world saving lost children takes time, effort and money.
In 2008 I published The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a short book of fairy tales, all proceeds of which went to Lumos. We are now having another fundraising drive, and this time we’ve decided that, as part of our money-raising scheme, we are auctioning a unique piece of jewellery at Sotheby’s on 10 December. The first idea was a brooch, but I, of course, proposed a charm bracelet. I sketched some ideas based on my treasured Bloomsbury bracelet and took them to the Scottish jeweller Hamilton & Inches. With incredible generosity, they offered to make the piece free of charge.
The last – and the prettiest – of this story’s bracelets could have come out of a fairy tale itself. It carries a collection of unique handmade charms that allude to stories and magic, including: a winged key, a tiny spell book and (for Harry) a bolt of lightning. The most precious charm of the lot is a little jewelled butterfly, which is the logo of Lumos – a symbol of transformation and liberation, of the beauty that can emerge from dark confinement.
I don’t know who will end up wearing the beautiful sister bracelet to mine, but of one thing I am certain – whoever she is will be a very nice woman indeed.
Previous writing: « Book of Potions
Next writing: Statement from J.K. Rowling »
Index ID: FWLA12 — Publication date: November 2013
2012 was a landmark year for Lumos. Our international team of dedicated professionals significantly scaled up its delivery of programmes that change the lives of Europe’s most vulnerable children. This Review provides a snapshot of some of Lumos’ extraordinary achievements.
I was profoundly moved by the individual stories of children reunited with their families; of parents who felt they had no option but to place their children in institutions, but were provided with the support they needed so their children could come home.
And this year too, Lumos saved the lives of many more children in institutions who were dying as a result of neglect or a lack of access to proper medical care.
During 2012, Lumos’ work to demonstrate best practices in changing systems of health, education and social services has become a model for others. Governments and organisations from many countries have asked Lumos to assist them in closing their institutions and setting up community services. Impressed by our success in Moldova, the Ukrainian national and regional level government, as well as NGOs, have begun to use Lumos’ approach to develop national and regional action plans for change.
But the work of one NGO can never be enough to help all children in institutions. This is why we work to influence decision makers at the highest level. This year we have been successful in assisting the European Commission and European Parliament to make major changes in the way EU funding can be spent. Over the next few years, this will shift resources from institutions to the development of community-based services, marking the beginning of the end of institutions for children in Europe.
None of this could be achieved without the generous support of partners and donors. For this I thank you and I hope you will continue to work with us to bring an end to the institutionalisation of children.
Previous writing: « Gilderoy Lockhart
Next writing: Book of Potions »