When physical therapists met two-year-old Catalina in a Romanian orphanage last year, she pulled away and withdrew into herself. As one of the thousands of victims of former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s inhumane medical policies, Catalina could not stand, talk, or walk. After six months of regular physical therapy, however, she had learned to use her fingers to pick up items and was able to stand and talk a little. Today, Catalina waves her hands, laughs, and likes to be held.

In the year since the horrifying revelations of institutional child abuse in Romania, life has changed dramatically for thousands of neglected children like Catalina. For some 3,000 Romanian orphans, international adoption provided the way out of misery.

But according to Barbara Bascom, World Vision Romania project manager, “Adoption is not the primary answer to Romania’s tragic problems.” The number of adoptable infants dropped dramatically after Romania banned institutional adoption in February. And prompted by reports of private “baby buying,” U.S. immigration officials tightened adoption regulations.

What is needed, Bascom says, is better care for the orphans.

This month marks the first anniversary of World Vision’s Romanian Orphans Social and Educational Services (ROSES) project. Recruiting care givers from Romanian churches and communities, ROSES has helped reduce the mortality rate by regular feeding and better care in the orphanages. Some 3,000 children in five orphanages are now being cared for by the project, which has emphasized children usually not considered for adoption.

Still, fewer than half of Romania’s orphans will be reached. The best answer, Bascom says, is establishing long-term changes in the country’s health-care system.

By Christine Lehmann.

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