Lumos Foundation has won the overall award at the 2015 Charity Awards. The Foundation was set up by author JK Rowling ten years ago to close children’s institutions and orphanages in developing countries and resettle their young residents with their families or foster carers.

Lumos chief executive Georgette Mulheir and Dr Irina Malanciuc, director of Lumos Moldova, accepted the award from minister for civil society, Rob Wilson, and John Low, chief executive of overall Charity Awards partner Charities Aid Foundation.

Lumos’ application to The Charity Awards centred on its work in Moldova, Europe’s poorest country with one of the highest rates of children separated from families and placed in institutional care, but the foundation has also worked to change policy and practice in countries including Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Haiti.

In 2007, with support from Lumos, Moldova’s government pledged to reform its childcare system, closing institutions and replacing them with family and community-based services. The charity found that while non-disabled children were easy to place back into families, disabled children faced being left behind, as Moldova had no system to allow inclusive education in local mainstream schools for thousands of disabled children living away from home in grim residential special schools. So Lumos set about creating inclusive educational services from scratch.

It was a process that involved changing mindsets at every stage of the process – putting the needs of children above the needs of the State and at the heart of decision-making. Thousands of professionals had to be retrained. The charity used financial modelling to prove that replacing institutional care with home and community-based services is cheaper, as well as better for the children.

By now the number of institutionalised children in Moldova has reduced by 80 percent and the Moldovan government has drafted a new action plan for complete deinstitutionalisation for the period up to 2020.

Mulheir and Malanciuc accepted the award before an audience of 600 charity sector leaders, politicians and celebrities at a gala presentation dinner in London hosted by Rugby World Cup winner Will Greenwood.