Orphanages to become more family-oriented

Major shake-up in the system of orphan institutions: all orphanages to become more family-orientated


30.05.2014, Moscow


From 1 September 2015, Russian orphanages will have to start working according to new rules. According to Government decree, orphanages set up by Government are to be organised along family lines. The Agency for Social Information has taken advice from experts who say that such a step is necessary in developing new practice and ways of working.


The Government Resolution No.481 on “Activities by organisations aimed at orphans and children left without parental care, and children in similar situations being cared for in these institutions” was signed by Dimitry Medvedev on 24 May. The effect of this decree will be to classify orphanages as temporary living accommodation, prior to children being placed with foster families.


According to the resolution, an orphanage will house no more than eight children of various ages. Each orphanage is obliged to bring in a small number of teachers who can only be replaced if they go on holiday, or in the event of illness or their dismissal. Children’s accommodation must be arranged in apartment form, with personal belongings obtained, where possible, with the child’s involvement. Everything will be open to public scrutiny at all times.


Meetings between children and potential foster parents or guardians must take place at least three times a week. The orphanage administration is obliged to arrange contact between children and their relatives, as well as working to return the foster child to his or her own family.


The decree states that “these measures will increase the effectiveness of orphanages in placing children in foster families, enhancing their social adaptation and protecting the rights and interests of children in orphanages, irrespective of their institutional affiliation, for fostering children in conditions roughly similar to those within the child’s own family”.


Experts had spoken of the urgency to restructure orphanages, and also discussed various changes that need to be made to the law. They have been waiting for such a decree to appear for a year now.


“This is a fundamental and truly ground-breaking document that provides a basis for innovation and new practices for working with children, taking their individual psychological make-up into account. In essence, a family-based approach. Yes, so much more needs to be done in developing and implementing such an idea. There will be difficulties along the way, but sound foundations have been laid”, said the Director of the Prevention of Social Orphanhood Fund, Alexander Marov.


The Director of the Charity “Our Children”, Varvara Penzova, hopes that this decree will provide added impetus to further reform of the orphanage system. However, she points out that Russian orphanages need to address a number of urgent issues for this initiative to be successful – one of the most pressing being the need for new staff.


“The country needs specialists in family-based care for orphans. I believe it is important that those who want to work in this area understand why such work is necessary and are able to undertake it. Without such commitment, nothing will be achieved. Unfortunately, an orphanage Director will often take the word “restructuring” to mean “repair”. And once “repair” has taken place, staff have to develop a completely different relationship with their children. Specialists in this field must learn to look at children in a different way than before. In some family groups, they practically become the children’s mother. Training for new staff is therefore essential, but I’m not sure whether it will be provided as standard across the country”, Penzova added.


The Chairman of “Rights of the Child”, Boris Altshuler, is convinced that the transition towards a new type of orphanage can be informed by those who have already successfully implemented it without waiting for the Government’s resolution. For example, an expert brought four orphanages to St Petersburg which were transformed into a family-based environment without an increase in budget finances.


“Restructuring orphanages can be done – not right away, but it is possible. The real breakthrough will come when an orphanage starts placing family groups in normal housing accommodation – Sanitary Regulations and Standards already allow this. It will then be possible to settle a foster child with his family and with orphans. This is not a foster family, more a sub-division within a state organisation, but will mean a totally different way of life for the children. When they’re all able to go to kindergarten and schools, the children will feel quite grown-up”, said Altshuler.


According to Altshuler, the hardest part will be introducing family-based arrangements for disabled children. “It won’t be easy, but it’s achievable”, says the expert. “It’s important here to understand that this reform applies equally to organising help to families with disabled children in the home. Because, as soon as such help is provided, many of their children are taken away from an orphanage – the consequences of which are that, without any support, they simply won’t be able to cope on their own. Such care would help in bringing about the overall rehabilitation of blood families”.


The President of the Charity “Volunteers for Aid to Orphans”, Elena Alshansky, believes that it’s vital that family support is given to reuniting a child with its parents.


Alshansky went on to say that “the Government should reconsider the approach to orphanages on an individual child basis. At present, this seems beyond the ability of state agencies. However, this is achievable with a proper understanding and correct basic approach to the issue. The decree states that the principal objective in establishing a family-based environment is to return the child to its own family. I very much hope that we can move forward with this idea and ensure that this is clearly spelled out in the legislation.


In each case, it is essential that real efforts are made to restore the ties between the child and its own family or relatives. These should be informal in nature, but with some conditions attached. Concerted efforts need to be made at regional level in reuniting families. However, this means providing comprehensive assistance, including occasional financial support. There are instances where relatives might be prepared to take in a child but are not allowed to do so for reasons such as housing. The President of the Charity “Volunteers for Aid to Orphans”, Elena Alshansky, said “if we are serious in tackling this problem and can mobilise regional resources, then the number of orphans will go down”.


According to Alshansky, there is another method for dealing with orphans that requires a great deal of effort, namely developing an informal approach. “Creating a family-based environment involves a lot of work”, she says.” It’s unacceptable to sit around waiting for foster parents to take a child from an orphanage. It is practically impossible to settle a grown-up child within a family – this only works best when babies are involved. It is necessary to create an environment for a particular child focusing on education, media, social advertising and attracting people from all different levels”.


The President of “Volunteers for Aid to Orphans” believes that, as part of the restructuring process, it is necessary to re-examine the role of the institutions themselves. At present, many of them are ill-equipped to provide a family-based environment for orphans, and reorganising them doesn’t always work. Instead, small buildings should be made available which could be used to create a family environment.


The restructuring of orphanages could increase the chances of integrating a child within a family by involving NGOs, according to Alshansky. “It’s important that agreement is now reached to transfer orphanages over to NGOs, as it is easier for them to place children in a family-based environment”, the expert said. “The Government has to understand that such a step will be more profitable in the long run. In this case, the authorities should provide a permanent subsidy, rather than funding one-off activities”.


Alshansky “calls upon civic bodies to move away from involving themselves in single actions to a planned system of support for an orphan’s own family. If help can be provided to the child’s family, then it won’t be necessary to keep them amused in an orphanage”.


Author: Darya Shapovalova



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