20 Years of Serving Children and Families Globally

by Connie BelciugLeer en español

About the Author
Connie Belciug, Ph.D., has served as the executive director of Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) for the past four years and has worked with the organization for 12 years. Originally from Moldova, Connie now spends time between her home country, India, Sri Lanka, countries across Africa, and the CERI headquarters in the U.S., always working to enrich the lives of children in need of a family to call their own.


The Beginning

Children’s Emergency Relief International (CERI) started in 1999 with one man’s dream to improve the lives of children living in the former Soviet Union. After witnessing life in an orphanage and meeting children begging on the streets in Moldova, Kevin C. Dinnin, BCFS System president and CEO, founded CERI with the vision to offer orphan children in Eastern Europe the opportunity to live in loving families. Over time the vision became a global one, reaching millions of children through direct care and policy changes. Twenty years ago, caring for children in families instead of orphanages was still a new concept in the developing world. In 2001, CERI pioneered a foster care program in Moldova placing children living in orphanages with foster families recruited from local Christian churches. With consistent case management and financial support provided through child sponsors, hundreds of placements became a success. Several hundred orphans found their forever families and thrived as a result of growing in a stable and loving family environment.

A Vision Grows

With CERI’s foster care program underway, we focused on strengthening the entire child protection system in Moldova. Through a partnership with UNICEF, we helped Moldova’s Ministry of Social Protection create a strong network of social workers to support the country’s most vulnerable children and families.

Protecting teenagers at risk of human trafficking became our new goal. Moldova has historically been a source country for human trafficking in Eastern Europe with increased risk of exploitation to children who do not live in a family environment.1 Through partnerships with US churches and corporations, CERI protects children and youth from trafficking. Our transitional care program supports youth who age out of orphanages with housing, job training, counseling and academic support.

In Moldova, we have impacted the lives of thousands of children and helped an entire country change the way children are cared for. With a commitment to see more children grow with the love and support of a family, CERI has worked in countries around the world, including Romania, Ukraine, Central African Republic, Georgia and Mexico.

Today, our ongoing programs are helping children in Moldova, Sri Lanka, India and South Africa.

Greater Impact

Two decades of protecting children has taught us something important. For children to grow in a loving family and reach their full potential, we need to work at all levels.

When we hear the word orphan, most of us think of orphanages. For centuries, the world has helped children who are not cared for by their parents by providing them with shelter, food and clothes. If we look past the physical structure of orphanages, we begin to see the factors that lead children to orphanages. Eighty-nine percent of the children who live in an orphanage have at least one living parent, with many having both.2 What is even more startling is the fact that many “orphans” have extended family such as grandparents and aunts and uncles who desire to raise them.

For a child to successfully develop in every area of life and to have the support she needs to thrive, family is critical. Family keeps children safe and provides for their needs. Family nurtures children as they develop and helps them prepare for the future. Family is the single most influential factor predicting a child’s well-being in life. What orphans truly need, beyond food, shelter and clothing, is a safe and loving family that can meet all their needs. In turn, families need to be supported and empowered by their communities and nations. 

Our definition of orphanhood has expanded as we’ve worked with thousands of vulnerable children and families.We learned that, in difficult times, these children didn’t have a loving family to turn to, a supportive community to embrace them, or national laws to protect them.   

Orphanhood is when a child lacks a loving family, a safe community and just policies to protect them in the darkest moments of life. 

With this new way of thinking, CERI has expanded to help more people. In addition to serving the innocent children and youth who don’t have a stable home, we now support vulnerable families, build up caregivers, train local people who serve children, work with community leaders to provide essential services and help entire nations create the best societies for children.

Our new approach is focused on preventing orphanhood by working at all levels – child, family, community and nation. When we address the root causes of orphanhood at each of these levels, families are strong and stay together, and more children have the love and care needed to thrive in life.

Research and experience show that only the family provides the optimal environment for a child to grow in and that a safe community will foster family well-being.3 When nations uphold laws that promote the rights of children to grow in a family, entire societies are shaped to care for children the best way.

Our Approach

Restore Children to a Family where their human rights are upheld, and basic needs fully met.

Empower Families to provide the best home environment for their children.

Equip Community Leaders to provide a full range of child-centered services to children and families.

Partner with Governments to develop policies that protect children and families, and that guarantee equal opportunities for all children.

The Future

As we celebrate twenty years, with a renewed vision for the future and a brand new way of telling our powerful story, our hope is for more children to be raised in families and for more communities and nations to be engaged in preventing orphanhood. We believe it takes all of us to ensure all children have the chance to grow up in a loving family. Join us and be part of changing lives around the world! Until there are no abandoned children or families struggling to stay together, we will have a vision to work towards and a mission to fulfill.


1Trafficking in Persons Report,” U.S. Department of State, June 2018.
2 unicef.org
3 childfriendlycities.org