Definition of ‘professional family’ to be expanded for Family Law Code

22 July 2014

 Vice-premier Olga Golodets says that the necessary amendments should be settled by the year’s end. Professional foster families are to receive a salary as well as an allowance. NGOs are in favour of the initiative but concerned over its method of implementation.

Boris Altshuler, the chair of Childrens Rights, a regional organisation, thinks that the expanded definition is consistent with the government’s decision that from 1 September 2015 homes for parentless children will be organised along family lines. He welcomed the fact that it was now generally accepted to be better for a child to grow up within a family setting rather than an institutional one that was liable to harm their psychological development. A parentless child should be allowed to grow up as an individual just like  normal children who are living with their own parents. With that in mind introducing the proposal was of course a step in the right direction. It offered those children who cannot in principle be cared for by a family or guardian the opportunity to live in a family setting. This was an important step as an alternative to the boarding institution. The housing budget could be used for organising groups and professional families which was a lot cheaper than building new boarding institutions.

Mr Altshuler added that work was needed on a creative approach to the legislation on helping birth families. He pointed out that 9 articles of the Family Code provided for methods of separating parents and children with another 42 dealing with parentless children. But there was no mention of any legal basis for working on rehabilitating the birth family. The upshot was that ‘we have an “anti-family” code’. The legislators needed to give some thought to preserving and supporting the birth family in crisis.

Alexandr Gezalov, the public chamber’s specialist on adoption, also welcomed the       development saying in a radio interview on Kommersant FM that the average family cannot always cope with the complicated lives of children who have already experienced problems in both their own families and in a children’s home. The new move was an attempt to correct the situation by having a larger number of parentless children transfer from institutions to families who would be familiar with the problems and know how to work with the children to reduce the number of relapses.

Whilst welcoming the idea of the ‘professional family’, Nadezhda  Alenina, representing, New Eurasia, inclined to the view that its introduction was premature. She said: ‘We are now at the very start of a journey. At present the number of children going back to live in an institution is higher than the number satisfactorily accommodated in a foster family. Two reasons lie at the root of the problem: lack of professionalism and selfishness. Some couples take a child just for the financial reward. I am not saying this is universal but such instances are not rare.’ The head of Positive Childhood, Svetlana Pronina, thought that there needed to be a rigorous selection procedure to rule out candidates possessing selfish motives.

Elena Alshanskaya, president of Voluntary Aid for Parentless Children, said: ‘Professional parents will need careful training and in my view the main job of the “professional family’” would be to look after a child temporarily whilst work is being carried out with the family of origin, for instance, if the parents are undergoing rehabilitation, receiving medical treatment or in prison. It is important for those in “professional families” to receive special training since the ordinary family trained in the school for foster parents aims to take a child as their own and return to the birth family would be unacceptable. The main problem is how the initiative is to be implemented in real life. If these are simply to be families that receive a salary and are no different from the ordinary ones, then I see no point in the proposal since that system already exists in the regions both in practice and in the legislation’.

Whilst Ms Alshanskaya on the whole favoured ‘professional families’, she feared possible negative consequences if they were to look after a child temporarily saying, ‘Our government is putting the emphasis on “professional families” being a suitable destination for a child, who has difficulty settling into family life, i.e. older children or those with disabilities. I would be very careful here. It is very risky to deprive such children of the chance of finding a real permanent family where there are parents who want to take on, bring up and love that child for its own sake and not for reward. I would be very sparing in the use of “professional families” in that format. In my view they should be temporary families’, she averred.

Author: Darya Shapovalova

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