The bigger picture

During this period when few could have missed the pictures in the media of a young girl found living with a couple who were not her parents at a Roma camp in Farsala, striking fear into our hearts about the weaknesses of a system that cannot provide protection even for children, maybe we should also be concerned about the entire spectrum of organizations that are tasked with the protection of minors.

Maybe we need to spend some time looking not just at The Smile of the Child, the nonprofit organization that is currently caring for the young girl found in Farsala, but also at state-run agencies for the protection of minors that receive neither support from individuals and sponsors nor from EU structural funds.

Let’s start our inquiries into the state of such organizations at Kaminia, a suburb of Piraeus. There, in one of the most run-down parts of the district near Thivon Avenue, a 1,200 square meter building is home to the Piraeus Shelter for Minors, where the housing conditions of abused children is at least several decades out of date.

The kitchen and dining area are located in the basement, with little in the way of natural light. A television, a few worn couches and tables and wooden chairs from a cafe compose the furnishings of the recreational room for these children, children who grew up in abusive families or with parents who were drug addicts.

For these youngsters, who have already had a tough time of it, even the playground hides dangers. Overgrown with nettles and other weeds, it is almost impossible to reach the area. Even the goalposts in an area where the kids play soccer are dangerously rusty.

Transporting the children to and from school every day is a task that has fallen on the shoulders of the home’s workers, most of whom are not trained as educators and, more importantly, have no formal training for a job that requires such sensitivity and carries so many responsibilities. Recently, five public sector office workers were transferred as part of the civil service mobility scheme to the Kaminia facility to supervise the children. They were given no training and no time to learn the job.

“We have absolutely no training to work under such conditions and we cannot maintain the kind of distanced stance that is necessary,” one of these employees told Kathimerini recently. “The emotional burden is unmanageable.”

The children at the shelter live in hope of being taken in by a foster family, though this rarely lasts long as such arrangements tend to be for short periods. Meanwhile, the director of the shelter is due to retire in the summer and as no one is slated to replace her, the shelter will simply be closed down. And when that happens, we will once again express our surprise at the problems faced by the institutions whose job it is to protect children.

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