Orphans no longer to be separated from brothers and sisters in Russia
The Ministry of Education has published draft revisions to Government Resolution No 481. Under the proposals, orphans should in future be able to settle in one place, instead of being shunted from one institution to the next. In the past children could be taken from their parents and put into a children’s home and, if they subsequently had educational or developmental problems, they could be moved again to a special unit, all within a four-year period. In addition, under the proposals, brothers and sisters will no longer be separated from each other and, perhaps more significantly, children will be raised in a relatively normal family environment instead of being of an institution.
Yelena Alshanskaya who heads up the charity Volunteers for Orphans commented on the proposals, “Removing children from their birth parents is a difficult and traumatic experience. Tearing children away from their brothers and sisters as well as their parents is entirely wrong, and yet the practice is commonplace. It happened at every institution we visited. In the past very little consideration was given to the problem. As a result, there is little information about the number of children that were separated from their siblings.”
Alshanskaya highlighted the importance of placing children in homes close to their family home. She said it enabled them to continue to see their parents, attend the same school and maintain contact with friends and neighbours; it is extremely important that children continue to live in an environment familiar to them and stay within their usual social circle.
Alshanskaya added, “Children ought to have the option of returning to their own home, and for that they need to maintain contact with their family. If children are moved far from their own homes, it is usually because there are suitable facilities nearby capable of meeting their educational or physical needs. Most families who have their children taken away are usually extremely hard-up; if they live far away from their children, they are unlikely to have the money to cover the cost of their journey.”
Children’s homes are now categories according to the services they specialise in – providing medical, educational or social needs. Educational institutions are for children with special needs that ordinary schools cannot meet. In the past there were very few places for children in remedial schools; and having children with disabilities in mainstream schooling was not an option. Severely disabled children were housed in units with no educational provision at all. From now on the vast majority of children will be educated in schools that are separate from their home. Only children who are physically incapable of travelling will be educated where they live. In the past children with severe developmental problems were regarded as ‘unteachable’ and sent to units where they were given nothing to do.
Alshanskaya explained, “Children in one care home could be sent to different schools in the area. It could be a mainstream school with inclusive facilities for disabled children or a school for children with special educational needs. There is absolutely no reason for children to live and study in the same place, in the way that it currently happens in boarding schools.”
Assuming the proposed amendments to the government resolution are passed, a plan will be formulated to ease the transition to the new system and ensure that children with special needs, regardless of their age or disability, will be able to take full advantage of the new facilities.
Alshanskaya added, “Many of the specialists we have spoken to in these institutions understand children’s needs perfectly well. For them, seeing children being wrenched from their parents, and often their siblings too, is terribly distressing. In all our years of experience it is only in the region of Udmurtia that we have seen children being able to maintain contact with their siblings. In every other place we visited many of the children have not seen their brothers and sisters for years.”
According to data published by the Ministry of Education, at the beginning of 2019 there were 1,314 orphanages in Russia, of which 459 were educational establishments, 148 were units specialising in medical care and 695 units offering social services, including 358 described as social-rehabilitation centres. Altogether they house 71,500 children.
The process of reforming Russia’s children’s homes began in 2014. They are now being re-designed to create a family environment for the children and located as close as possible to the children’s natural parents, with a view to the children staying in the care home for only a limited period and then being returned to their homes. In cases where this is not possible in the future, children will be placed in foster care.