By: Vugar Naghiyev, USAID/Azerbaijan
Child and Family Support Centers (CFSC) established under USAID’s Community-Based Children’s Support Program have provided around 30,000 vulnerable children and 8,000 families in Azerbaijan with essential social services over the past six years. The majority of children that use the centers are considered vulnerable – meaning they live in institutions, are from poor families, are Internally Displaced Persons (İDPs), or are living with a physical or mental disability.
Implemented by Save the Children and funded through USAID’s Displaced Children and Orphans Fund, the program began in 2004 to provide community-based models in support of the Azerbaijan Ministry of Education’s “State Program on De-Institutionalization and Alternative Care (2006-2015)”. This State Program envisioned reunification of children living in institutions with their biological families or alternative care providers.
Anver Tagiyev, 17, is one of the beneficiaries of the program. Suffering from a congenital spinal cyst, Anver developed a neurological curved foot as the ailment advanced. Although Anver went through surgery in 2002 to correct the problem, complications required the amputation of his right leg. Now, Anver is wearing a prosthetic leg.
Severe health problems coupled with the untimely death of his mother led to Anver’s decision to drop out of high-school. Despite his poor health, in 2009 he got the chance to attend a six-month course on sewing in Baku conducted by the Employment and Treatment Center for Young People with Disabilities. However, upon return to Goygol (a town 220 miles west of capital Baku) he faced unemployment. Most young people with disabilities have limited opportunities for employment in the country; Anver was not an exception. Despondent and hopeless, Anver became unconcerned about his future. His father remembers that difficult period his son went through: “For a father I cannot think of anything worse than feeling powerless to help your child. Waiting for Anver, wondering where he could be and in what company, I spent many sleepless nights.”After becoming acquainted with the USAID-funded Child and Family Support Center in Goygol, Anver rediscovered hope. CFSC social workers opened a case for Anver to assess his housing, education facilities, and psychological factors to determine if the needs of this vulnerable family could be addressed. As a result of their activities that successfully mobilized community support, a local tailor agreed to take Anver as his apprentice.
Anver has a job he enjoys. ‘When my mom died, and I lost my leg, I thought it was over for me. But now, my worldview has changed. I have two arms and another leg. I have a profession – I am a good tailor”, says Anver.
Created both in the capital city and in nine districts across the country these twelve centers demonstrate how to provide children and their families with services they need as an alternative to institutionalization. These centers promote social integration and local capacity to care for vulnerable children by mobilizing community resources to address children’s needs through psychosocial and economic support.
Three of the centers were handed over to the Government of Azerbaijan in 2008 and are still in operation. Nine CFSCs were handed over to the State Committee on Family, Women and Children’s Issues under an agreement signed at the end of December 2010 between the State Committee and Save the Children, culminating more than six years of close collaboration between the governments of Azerbaijan and the United States, with recent support from the European Union.
As part of the handover, the State Committee has assumed financial and managerial oversight for these nine centers from January 2011 as further indication of the Azerbaijani government’s committment to child welfare system reform.