NEWS

Hostel that offers family environment

Eliza was a little girl who lived in New York. Her educational expenses were being paid by the artist Marina Karella and her husband. Eliza’s mother was a drug user and the authorities had deemed her incapable of looking after her child, who went to live with her father. She was doing well until her father died. When the authorities and social workers determined that the mother had gone off drugs and could care for her daughter, the Karellas embarked on an unsuccessful legal battle to gain custody. One year later, 6-year-old Eliza was found dead, tortured by her mother and her mother’s lover. «That little girl has been in our hearts and minds ever since, and I think that paved the way to what we are pleased to announce today,» said Karella. She and Constantinos Sekeris, chairman of SOS Villages Greece, were announcing the foundation of SOS Eliza, the first hostel in Greece for abused children aged up to 5. SOS Children’s Villages, an international organization with branches in 133 countries, cares for more than 250,000 children around the world. In Greece there are SOS Children’s Villages in Vari (catering to 70 children), Playiariou, Thessaloniki (60 children) and Alexandroupolis (80 children), as well as hostels for teenagers in Palaio Faliron (36 individuals), Thessaloniki (18), and Halandri (10), and the Child and Family Support Center in Athens (80 children). Sekeris expressed the hope that raising public awareness would lead to the establishment of more such hostels. SOS Eliza is in a 350-square-meter building donated by Eleni Papaconstantinou. The operating costs will be shared by the Eliza corporate body and SOS Children’s Villages. Psychologist-psychoanalyst Myrto Nilsen, co-director with Eleni Agathonos-Georgopoulou of the hostel, explained that the system is based on a combination of family life, with three live-in «mothers,» and support and treatment for children and parents from a team of specialists (psychologists, social workers, an infant and children’s nurse, a pediatrician and a legal adviser). The purpose of the hostel is to provide a stable residence in a family setting for 18 months. Family counseling focuses on getting the parents to renegotiate their relationship with their child, the first priority being the child’s reintegration into their own family. If the relationship between parent and child is such that the child needs to be removed from the family, the other solutions are adoption, a foster family or transfer to an SOS Village. Agathonos-Georgopoulou said that when specialist help and support are available, most of the parents are able to care for their child. If a child’s mother has also been subject to domestic violence, she will also be admitted to the hostel.