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KOSOVO: Deinstitutionalization Project

Youth in community-based homes
Institutionalization in Kosovo was characterized by discrimination, abuse, and neglect. During the break-up of the former Yugoslavia and the accompanying wars and displacement, many children were abandoned or left in institutions because their parents were unable to care for them. Institutionalized children, many with disabilities, faced common rights violations such as physical and mental abuse, malnutrition, and denial of the right to education and participation.  
 
An alternative to the grim realities of institutions
At the end of the NATO bombing in Kosovo in 1999, children were found in the Shtime Social Institution (SSI) tied to their beds or wandering the grounds in search of food. They had never been provided with rehabilitative services, and many had been abused by adult residents and staff. Simultaneously, many disabled Kosovar children living with their biological families were virtually hidden in their homes; few attended schools or participated in society due to a pervasive stigma suggesting disabled children were unworthy of participation in the community. 
 
Reintegration and community-based support
HealthRight International* launched its Deinstitutionalization Project in December of 2000, targeting children at Shtime and from the communities with special needs. HealthRight transitioned children living at SSI to community-based group homes and expanded rehabilitation activities to disabled children within the communities, providing education, health services, and rehabilitation. Thanks to HealthRight’s advocacy, many children now attend public school or receive special education. Through organized activities and rehabilitation, children have been gradually integrated into community life. The project serves as a model for deinstitutionalization and establishes protocols for the development of an effective Kosovar social welfare system.
 
A long term, sustainable solution
Dedicated to implementing a lasting and sustainable solution, HealthRight worked closely with local partners, building capacity and advocacy skills at an individual and community level. HealthRight provided training and support to staff at community-based homes and at Community Resource Centers for disabled children. Community Advisory Boards empower parents and community members to provide oversight, leadership and advocacy training. The successful transfer of HealthRight’s deinstitutionalization program administration to the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare in Kosovo ensures that HealthRight’s project will have a deep and lasting impact on the health and human rights of disabled children and Kosovar communities at large.