Family Based Care Leader SOS Children's Villages in Croatia
photo: © Stefan Lechner Photography
The sense of responsibility helps to reconcile the opposing heart and mind
Recently, we had a birthday celebration in our SOS Children's Village. It was a special day for all of us and we prepared for it with joy and devotion. And when it came, all was perfect: the sun was shining, the grass and trees were green, the children were happy and the adults were joyful and relaxed. Our houses and courtyards were decorated and prepared for various events. I was walking around meeting guests, friends, colleagues, children known and unknown, sharing the magic of that day with all of them. I was really enjoying it with all my heart and the family-based care leader in me was satisfied and proud.
Then came the moment when I saw her. I knew she would be there and even though I was not prepared for an encounter, I approached her warmly and with positive energy and hugged her. She leaned over and I could see her tears. I was touched but still in a happy mood.
A moment full of memories
To explain what happened, I need to go back a few months and explain the circumstances that are relevant to this story. Anna grew up in our care. I remember the time she learned to take her first steps: so small and so cute, she was a favourite child in the SOS family. The SOS mother worshipped her. Despite this, her childhood was not carefree and easy, mostly due to the negative impact of her biological mother.
Problems began on entering puberty when the close relationship with the SOS mother deteriorated, even becoming pathological, because Anna began to project her anger at the biological mother onto the SOS mother, and she often did not know how to react in such situations. Verbal aggression toward the SOS mother happened on a daily basis, and Anna often attacked her physically.
Sometimes there was a day when Anna was gentle, careful and cooperative with her SOS mother, and the latter started to hope that everything could be all right again. We organised all possible support for both of them, but nobody was happy, neither Anna nor her SOS mother. Four other children in the SOS family also suffered. Then one day she escaped from the SOS Village to meet a young man she had got to know on Facebook. We found her and there were no serious consequences.
Seeking the best option for the child, even if it is not through SOS
Considering her total resistance to adults and their attitudes and requirements and to her SOS mother, who was totally helpless and desperate, I decided that we had to take a step we did not want to take and find her a different care setting. At the same time I saw a twelve-year-old girl (who was pretending to be much older), who was growing up in SOS but outside the SOS Village had nobody to care for her. I asked myself how I was going to tell her that she had to leave. She was just an unhappy child who responded to difficult circumstances in the only way she knew.
Such situations make me angry and sad at the same time. What had we missed, what did we do wrong, why didn’t we succeed? I felt it was easier to continue to rely on the faint hope that things would become better (in the same way as the SOS mother was surviving every day). We discussed all the options in our team and decided to ask the Social Welfare Centre for different accommodation for Anna, and this became available very soon.
Strengthened by the team support, with sincere empathy and care, confidence and resolution, I talked with Anna and the SOS mother and prepared them for the upcoming leaving. It was very hard for both of them, also for me. But in this situation somebody had to take responsibility and be brave and purposeful, which was me. It was especially important to me that the SOS mother had the opportunity to mourn without the burden of making decisions and this made my task easier.
Both of them were happy because Anna would be moved to a small group home for girls in a nearby village, so they could stay in contact. They were shocked when the carers said that all contact with the outside world was forbidden for the first six weeks. There were also very strict rules about everything and a lot of physical work. Every privilege should be hard to earn. It was totally different from the SOS family and it seemed very challenging for our girl, so we remained quite worried.
Six weeks have passed and Anna asked if she could come with other girls to the birthday celebration and participate in it with a dance performance. She came, without any anger, just with a sadness for a home that she had to leave. Watching her so vulnerable and at the same time so brave and determined to show the best of herself, I told myself that we had done the best to help her. With the conviction that we have done what was in her best interest and with faith that she will succeed, I continued to enjoy the magic of a communal celebration.
Višnja works as a family-based care leader. In addition to her work at SOS Children’s Villages, Višnja teaches, does therapy and supervision. She values dedication and always being fully present and interested. She enjoys the creativity her work inspires in her, but believes the best part of it is the contact she has with every single person in her job.
Višnja has explored her family history, and that has led her to a better understanding of herself and her parents. In her spare time, she likes relaxing, reading or watching TV series, and cooking. She also enjoys going out with friends, but most of all she likes being outside, biking and hiking. She finds peace and energy in the natural world around her.
Višnja lives in Slavonia in Eastern Croatia, a quiet region with a growing opportunity for rural tourism. Many families emigrate in search of a better life, but Višnja loves living there. She lives in Osijek, a beautiful town on the banks of the river Drava, famous for its old buildings.