Vilnius was the first place in Lithuania where SOS Children's Villages started working. The decision to start operating in the country was influenced by the urgent need for family-based care for children who could no longer live with their families. An important part of our work in Vilnius includes supporting vulnerable families from the local community.
What we do in Vilnius
SOS Children's Villages aims to strengthen local families by offering access to essential education, nutritional and health services. Working together with local authorities and other agencies, we support families who are at risk of abandoning their children.
We advise on parenting skills and income generation. Furthermore we strengthen communities so that vulnerable members have someone to turn to in times of need. We also provide leisure activities which bring people from the neighbourhood together.
Children whose families can no longer take care of them can find a loving home with one of the 14 SOS mothers. The children from the SOS families attend nearby schools together with local children, which helps them become part of the community.
Until 2012, we also ran a Kindergarten where children could be looked after while their parents work or receive training. The kindergarten is now run by the local authorities. When children are ready to leave their families they can move to the SOS Youth Programme. The young people live in special houses during their vocational training or further education and can prepare for an independent life under the guidance of professionals.
A second SOS Social Centre in Alytus (about 100 kilometres from Vilnius) also supports local families and children so that they can stay together and provides day care so parents can go to work or receive training.
The capital city is home to many families living on the poverty threshold
SOS Children's Village Vilnius is located in Virsuliskes, a suburb of Vilnius about three kilometres north of the city centre. Vilnius is in the south-eastern part of the country and home to around 560,000 people. The population is diverse: 58 per cent are Lithuanians and the main minorities are Poles (19 per cent) and Russians (14 per cent).
As the capital, Vilnius is the political, cultural and economic centre of the country. The city and its surrounding areas produce a large proportion of the country's gross domestic product. Different businesses, such as food production and processing, as well as chemical and timber industries provide the local population with employment and income. The relative prosperity of the region has attracted migration from other, more deprived areas of Lithuania.
The recent economic crisis and the increase in prices have affected many families. As a result, the number of children under 17 who are at risk of poverty has remained high although assistance from the state has kept many out of this category. The children who end up in the care of SOS Children's Villages often come from troubled backgrounds. In some cases the parents abuse alcohol or drugs, neglect their children or even beat them. In other cases the parents cannot look after their children for economic reasons - they have lost their jobs, have no adequate housing or have moved abroad to search for work.
Working with the authorities to provide support
Although the state has taken some measures to help children who have lost parental care, our work in the city remains as crucial today as it was when we started working in the area. SOS Children's Villages works very closely with local government agencies, ensuring that children have access to the help they need, be it psychological help or educational support. In addition, the support offered to families and children who have lost parental care, the provision of day-care so parents can go to work, and the tailored support to young people embarking on an independent life have formed the core of our organisation's activities in the area.