The Foundation for Social Welfare Services is an equal opportunity entity, providing support to families, children and youths. 

Through Appoġġ, Sedqa and the Agency for Community and Therapeutic Services (ACTS) as well as the Gozo Branch Services Directorate, Directorate for the Protection of Minors (CPS), Directorate for Alternative Care (DAC) and its back-office administration, the foundation provides an array of 70 services ranging from domestic violence, human trafficking, child protection, alternative care, substance misuse, psychological services just to mention a few.

Everyone who resides in Malta can avail of the services it offers. Thus, these services are accessible to Maltese and non-Maltese nationals including migrants, refugees and their children. 

A procedure is followed when people come forward or require the foundation’s services. An assessment will be carried out to determine the needs of the person and assistance will be provided especially when it comes to accessing basic needs such as accommodation, food, shelter and social support. If/when required, there will be a referral to other services, including other governmental entities

This also applies to Ukranian refugees. In fact, FSWS is in contact with the Ukranian community in Malta to offer its assistance, as the need arises. 

FSWS is also in active contact with the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs and the Ambassador for Ukraine to assist with its services where applicable.  Indeed, governments from different parts of the world, organisations and non-govermental entities have joined forces to assist Ukranians. 

One such organisation is the International Social Service (ISS), a global player in the field of child protection and welfare with a presence in over 120 countries.

ISS was founded in 1924 and today assists children and families facing difficult social issues as a result of migration. Every year, ISS supports and assists roughly 75,000 families around the world.

There is no agreement on adoptions with the Ukrainian authorities

In addition to its on-the-ground work, ISS engages in training projects, public awareness campaigns and advocacy to promote greater respect for children’s rights.  FSWS is an active member of ISS and participates on the Governing Board and sits on the Professional Advisory Committee and the Casework Coordinators’ Group.  

The ISS network is assisting children and families who have been touched by the crisis in Ukraine, including dislocation and the loss of human lives.  The magnitude of human suffering since the conflict in Ukraine escalated on February 24 has been great. More than four million Ukrainians have crossed borders into neighbouring countries like Poland and Hungary, as well as other European countries in the past five weeks.

In the face of the Ukraine crisis, ISS has issued a call for international standards in the context of those most vulnerable in society, specifically those relating to intercountry adoptions, international care, surrogacy and children on the move.  

In its document, ISS explains how to use international standards when working with children and families that have been affected by the crisis. It highlights that whatever the decisions, action or process, the focus should be on the best interests of the child. 

With regard to intercountry adoptions, ISS maintains that these should not be initiated during an armed conflict, adding that Ukraine is one of the major states of origins for intercountry adoption and that it ranked second in ISS/IRC’s worldwide annual statistics in 2020, with 277 intercountry adoptions.

ISS also calls for international standards in relation to children in – or coming from – residential care institutions. Children in residential care must be protected. Without prejudice, all children have the right to life, survival and development, and this care might be jeopardised by hasty adoptions that disregard international standards. Rather, attempts should be made to reunite children with their biological parents or other members of their family.

The call for international standards by ISS extends to surrogacy procedures too. Such procedures cannot be started in an emergency. For foreign couples seeking surrogacy services, Ukraine is the second most popular location. Surrogacy has resulted in the birth of 2,000 to 2,500 infants every year in Ukraine in recent years.

ISS, which is a leader on standards with regard to children on the move, urges that all children’s best interests are served by staying with or being reunited with their families. All efforts should be made to keep children with their families or primary caretakers and avoid future separation. They advocate evacuating children with adult family members or caregivers if possible and keeping siblings together. They call for a prioritisation of family-based housing for children and their families, especially for children who have been separated from their parents or caregivers.

At present, there are those contacting the Directorate for Alternative Care (Children & Youth), which falls under the Foundation for Social Welfare Services, to ask whether it is possible to adopt a child from Ukraine.

To date, there is no agreement on adoptions with the Ukrainian authorities, therefore, no children can be adopted from Ukraine.  The countries which the Adoption Service within the Directorate for Alternative Care works with through the Social Care Standards Authority are Albania, Chile, Colombia, India, Malta, Poland, Portugal and Slovakia.

The FSWS supports the efforts of ISS in assisting children and families affected by the crisis in Ukraine. Through its different agencies and directorates, and in tandem with the International Relations Department of the foundation, the FSWS is monitoring the situation both on the local level and on the international field through its network within ISS.

Claudette Abela Baldacchino is director of international relations, service audits, quality assurance and research at the Foundation for Social Welfare Services.

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