Tragically, many children like Lorelai are locked away in institutions.
by Jayme Metzgar
Last Friday, the TV show "Romania's Got Talent" featured a performance that has since gone viral all over the world. Fourteen-year-old Lorelai Moşneguţu, who was born without arms, sings and plays the piano with her feet in a performance that brings the whole room to tears. It is a moving example of the power of the human spirit to overcome obstacles.
But Lorelai's backstory is even more remarkable. Asked about her parents by the judges, Lorelai replies that "Mama Vio" is there with her. Intrigued, the judges inquire why she calls her mother "Mama Vio." Lorelai explains that she was abandoned at birth, and that she has been living with Mama Vio in placement since she was a baby. The judges then ask for Mama Vio to come out on stage and be recognized, before finally listening to Lorelai sing. Her stunning, joyful performance shows the difference a family can make in the life of an abandoned child, especially one with special needs.
What would happen to baby Lorelai today?
What many people may not realize is that in Romania today, an abandoned child like Lorelai would be at much higher risk for long-term institutionalization than a child without disabilities. Romanian law forbids abandoned children under age two from being placed in institutions, preferring that they go to foster families. However, the law makes an exception for children with handicaps. As a result, many babies with even minor physical deformities are placed into special needs institutions, where lack of love and individual care often give rise to long-term mental, physical, and emotional damage.
In our experience over two decades of working with abandoned children, this consigning of handicapped babies to a loveless fate happens far too often. In a child welfare system that is already failing to find families even for healthy children, it's convenient to find a reason to place children in institutions. But this is neither an acceptable nor a humane solution.
Here at Romania Reborn, our privately-funded Romanian social workers have worked to save children with disabilities from this fate, placing them into families. We would love to see family-based care become a priority throughout Romania, through legal reforms and increased partnerships with NGOs like ours. Unfortunately, Romanian child welfare authorities often view NGOs with suspicion rather than treating them as partners.
It's time to let Romania's compassion show
In watching the video of Lorelai's performance, it is clear that Romanians are compassionate, warm, and accepting people. Most Romanians do not realize how their government is handling the cases of children just like this one. Many beautiful souls like Lorelai are missing from Romanian society, because they are locked away in institutions that are unworthy of the Romanian people.
As Romania rightfully celebrates this young girl's inspiring performance, it should also renew its commitment to the welfare of children with disabilities. It would be wonderful to see more Romanian families follow "Mama Vio's" example in giving a home to a disabled child. Every child deserves, needs, and belongs in a family.