17:40 GMT +320 September 2017
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    Changing Russia's approach to orphans

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    MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya) - Child abandonment is one of Russia's worst problems. Nobody knows how many children with living parents have landed in orphanages, or, still worse, on the streets.

    The figure is between 700,000 and 800,000 - more than the Soviet Union had after World War II. Is there anything that can be done about it?

    It is not possible to resolve the problem by treating its symptoms instead of its causes. This was the unanimous opinion of participants in a news conference on the contribution of the public and the media to reducing child abandonment, held in Moscow on April 19 and attended by representatives of orphanages and charity organizations.

    Participants in the news conference noted that life for orphans is particularly hard when they leave state-run orphanages at the age of 18. Only 10% find a place in life, whereas 90% live below the poverty line. Most of them are completely lost on their own, and have no idea how to build a family. Experts maintain that a considerable part of Russian adults who grew up in orphanages are unhappy in their personal life, and quite often abandon their own children.

    Participants in the news conference emphasized that this was not the only headache; society turns its back on orphans and does not want to hear about their problems. They cited the results of a poll conducted recently in downtown Moscow. When asked about their attitude to orphans, out of 1,000 respondents, 999 said the problem had nothing to do with them.

    Experts pointed out that despite its commitments to orphans, the state cannot smooth their transition from the orphanage to the outside world, teach them to love and be responsible. The public should help. It makes sense to develop ways of caring for these children other than orphanages, preferably based on an individual approach: family homes, villages, churches, foster care and adoption.

    Development of these systems is also important because of the 270,000 orphans living in state-run homes, Russian families adopt only 7,000 a year; the figure for foreigners is about the same. What is the lot of all the others?

    Adoption is a very complicated procedure and not all children can go through it for a number of reasons. Some of them don't want to because they remember their own parents and will not accept anyone else. Experts emphasized the need to put children's interests first. It is important to choose the best form of care for a particular child and make sure it does not carry the risk of new psychological trauma.

    In this context, the experience of Moscow Children's Home #19 is almost unique. I used the word "almost" because they have infected others with their enthusiasm. The home has a foster-care system and a professional adoption program that reveals the requirements of children and conducts seminars and training for the prospective parents. The home continues to care for its children and helps families that adopt them with all aspects of bringing them up, from securing a place in a kindergarten to getting medical assistance. This is very important because many people are afraid to adopt a child and face all the difficulties on their own. There are about 5,000 children in foster care in Russia. More than a third of all Russian regions (39) have similar services, but this system has come under threat because the foster-care centers and the Russian parliament have different views on foster and adopted families. Nevertheless, this system has been very effective so far.

    The family boarding house run by Father Dmitry Smirnov in the village of Myshkino is another alternative to being left alone. The house has children with different legal statuses. Some are even in constant contact with their parents. Thus, one child lives there with his mother, who would have drunk herself to death if she were left on her own. The house gives her a chance to stay afloat. A single father leaves his son for the five working days of the week, and takes him home on weekends. This is how small children keep their families.

    Experts believe that these examples suggest what should be done to prevent children from landing in orphanages. Elena Alshanskaya, the head of the Volunteers to Help Orphans project, noted that much is said about the lot of a child left without its parents, but little is being done. To remedy this situation, the state and the public must pool their efforts. Sociologists estimate that today about 20 million Russian children are at risk. Regrettably, it is simpler to deprive parents of their parental rights and send their kid to an orphanage than to monitor and help troubled families, Alshanskaya said. Meanwhile, the latter option would help reduce the number of abandoned kids and children whose mothers and fathers the state has deprived of parental rights.

    It goes without saying that Russia has to do a lot to reduce child abandonment. In the meantime, volunteers from charity organizations and experts working with orphans hope to change the approach of the government and public to this problem.

    The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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