This profile was prepared when Jozef Mikloško was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
The New Idea
Throughout formerly communist Central and Eastern Europe, the dominant form of dealing with at-risk children continues to be state institutionalization. Jozef, who began as a volunteer within institutions for children, has developed a new model of childcare that shifts the deciding power about a child’s future from the state back to the family. Driven by the belief that a child’s best chance for a satisfying and productive life is to remain close to its immediate or extended family, Jozef’s model works to prevent child separation the first place, reunite children in institutions with their siblings and families, restructure the very nature of child institutions, and propose new laws and better implementation of current laws more favorable to children’s needs. Jozef’s idea is simple: If a family is struggling to take care of its child or children, the first intervention should always be with the family, to prevent the collapse of the family unit. The responsibility for charting the best course for a child’s life begins and should end with the family, and institutionalization should be a last resort after all other options are exhausted. Jozef has thus built a nation-wide coalition of family support centers—in partnership with social workers, state agencies, church leaders, pediatricians, family counselors, and others—to respond quickly to families in need and provide training and support to enable them to keep their children or reunite with lost children. By comprehensively working with public officials and state mechanisms that deal with institutionalized children and their families, Jozef is introducing reforms that can be adopted across Central and Eastern Europe. His eight regional family centers provide assistance to thousands of parents and families in Slovakia. Jozef’s work as a champion of children’s rights has led to more than forty changes in legal administration regarding child institutionalization and foster care. Most recently he has introduced his family-centered model in Ukraine.