Family is everything for Charlene Vella Vassallo. As she welcomes baby number five, she can’t help feeling grateful to have been blessed with such bountiful fortune. Having grown up as the youngest of a large and very close-knit family she appreciates what it feels like to be raised within a supporting and loving community.
“Growing up in a big family like ours you’re never alone. You get used to having everyone’s opinion about everything. You learn a lot about sharing, even choosing what to watch on television. I am the youngest so my option was always the last,” she says with a little chuckle. “I grew up in a community. I have very protective brothers and they are still protective to this day. We have a very good rapport.” And having had this kind of upbringing, Charlene understands all too well its importance and how detrimental it can be to a child’s development and mental well-being when the structure of a loving, caring and supportive family are missing.
A lawyer by profession, specialising in human rights of the child, it is with particular poignancy that Charlene talks about her “passion project”, establishing a new format of alternative care for children where they can grow in as close to a family environment as possible. “This project is so close to my heart that it sometimes scares me. I’d love, from the little I have, to be able to change somebody else’s situation for the better,” she says. Having established itself as a market leader in the care of the elderly, it felt only natural for CareMalta to extend its services within the social care sector to include children.
The new alternative care project will further complement the Group’s successful experience with HILA. The latest available statistics show that in Malta around 469 children live in alternative care, of whom 206 live in community/residential homes and 263 are in foster care. Through ongoing discussions with the Minister for Social Justice and Solidarity, the Family and Children’s Rights, the Group has identified the need for a new format of residential arrangement with a more personal focus on each child. “No one can replace their family but through our new concept for alternative care we hope to give children that same family atmosphere.
We hope they won’t feel any different from other children, addressing the stigma that still lingers around children brought up in institutions or other residences,” explains Charlene. “The idea is to try to reflect a normal family scenario and give carers the ability to focus on each individual child better,” she adds. It will be the first time that the private sector will be entering this field but Charlene hopes this would mean that CareMalta’s proven standard of care will benefit children too.
“We want to treat these children like any other family would. We want to organise extracurricular activities and even attend parents’ day. We hope to develop each child to their full potential,” she says, adding that future discussions with the government will help identify the biggest needs in this sector. While this may be a new venture for the Group, it is certainly nothing new for the Vassallo family who prove that charity begins at home. “My mother would regularly entertain children residing with the Ursuline Sisters at our own house, inviting them to play in our swimming pool. When my children attended the Ursuline Sisters’ school we would take some of the children out with us on family excursions.”
“We want to take a holistic approach in the care of children and help them take the right step into adulthood. This is the Group’s contribution to society,” says Charlene. “Just as CareMalta has done in the field of care for the elderly, we hope to aim for the same high standards and stability in this new sector and hopefully touch a lot of other lives.”