Children on the Edge, a charity I started at The Body Shop in 1990, is featured on this week's File on 4 programme on the BBC. File on 4 explored the plight of children in Romania, one of the poorest countries in Europe. COTE has been working with kids in Romania for over a decade.
File on 4 airs at 8pm on 9 December, and a transcript of the programme is available online. Visit the File on 4 website for transcript and airtime information. Visit Children on the Edge for more information about how it is helping children around the world who suffer under poverty and war.
File on 4 this week reports on the plight of children in one of the poorest countries in Europe.
Romania is hoping to join the EU in 2007 and one of the main conditions set for its membership is a radical transformation of the state system of care for vulnerable children.
Brussels has spent tens of millions of pounds on a programme designed to close many of the country's notorious orphanages and children's homes, and to put in place an effective social services network.
But File on 4 has found disturbing evidence that the rush to close Romania's state institutions is sending many abandoned children back to violent family homes or leaving them on the streets.
Jenny Cuffe reports from Bucharest where street children guide her to a disused boiler house in which they huddle together for shelter, sharing what food they can get from begging. One girl of 15 tells how, when the orphanage she lived in was closed, a social worker took her back to her village and left her outside the parish hall.
"I didn't want to see my parents," she said. "My father used to drink and beat me. My mother died a couple of months ago after she was beaten up."
A 12-year-old boy in the boiler house community suffered a similar experience. "I came here because my parents sent me begging, then beat me and took the money for cigarettes."
Rachel Bentley, of the British based charity, Children on the Edge, is one of those who is critical of the way the closure programme is being handled:
"The support is not there," she says, "because the EU is putting pressure on Romanian to reform child protection without introducing the necessary social infrastructure.
"There's not enough social workers or money. People are acting according to EU pressure but with the same mindset from the Ceausescu period. They honestly think they're doing a good job."
However many children and young adults are still living in dire conditions in some of the institutions that remain open. And for some, the institutions are totally inappropriate.
At Harlau psychiatric hospital in the north east of the country, Jenny Cuffe met Constantin Carcea, a normal, bright 18 year old who says he was sent to the hospital after falling out with officials at the children's home in which he'd previously lived. In the hospital he was regularly being given medication, including diazepam even though he had no mental illness.
Following File On 4's visit, Constantin has now been released from the hospital and has begun working on a farm run by a local charity.
Jonathan Scheele, head of the EU delegation in Romania says Europe is putting another 63 million Euros into child protection projects and says he never under-estimated the difficulties.
"We've focused very much on the issue of institutionalised children and closing homes has improved things more in some areas than others, " he admits. "But we're assessing what's happened to deal with the problems. Tying child protection to Romania's accession to the EU was essential because children's rights were being ignored."