On the surface, the children were content, playing with those they call their brothers and sisters while looking for guidance from their tias. Yet, behind their eyes was a pain stemmed from a life of physical and emotional abuse by their closest family, their parents.
“These kids have no idea what a good mother is,” said Viviana Araya, psychologist and temporary director for Asociación Infantil Hogar Sol in Desamparados.
Hogar Sol is a non-governmental children’s home that collaborates with the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, known as PANI, an effort to protect children who have been abandoned, abused, or sexually and physically assaulted. The home can serve up to 14 children from ages 1 to 9.
The child’s parents usually have drug or alcohol addictions that have risen from a life of poor education and a lack of economical success, she said.Ms. Araya points out that their small residents are not orphans. PANI brings Hogar Sol children who have been taken from their homes because the parents were deemed unfit to care for them at the time.
“Some parents are permitted to visit, but not all,” she said.
The parent goes through a six-month rehabilitation period, and after that time they are reevaluated to see if the child can return home. If not, an adoption process is started. For most of the children, this is the best option.
Adoptions can come from Costa Ricans or foreigners. The most foreign adoptions are from Americans, Italians and Germans, and is a process that can be competitive, lengthy and difficult, Ms. Araya said.
The main goal, she said, is to maintain the child’s best interest at heart.
“We look for the family that is right for the child, not just a family looking for a child,” she said.
In the mean time, the children play and learn lessons typical to elementary school about sharing and following rules. Three live-in women, called tias or aunts, guide their activities Monday through Friday. They are given this title to add to the family environment, and live at the home to maintain a sense of stability. From the time of arriving, all the residents receive psychological help to cope, which also helps, Ms. Araya said.
The staff also includes a teacher, babysitter and two volunteers, one now is from France and another is from Sweden. Many Americans give donations in the form of clothes, toys and food to help the non-profit stay operative.
Hogar Sol has been open since 1990. In this time they have helped 326 boys and girls, a number that seems small in a fight against infant violence that officials have called an epidemic, according the Web site.
“Child violence is a big problem and there are very little homes like ours for the children,” said Ms. Araya. “And they are all full.”
These places are important because without the help, children from abused backgrounds are more likely to become delinquents, she added.
Despite the odds, these children smile in their temporary place and await for the day they can find comfort in their new home, a process that usually takes a year.