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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Foster families vs. orphanages

Being raised at their homes helps children develop a sense of security in life, though this is not always evident for officials
9 December, 2010 - 00:00
AN ORPHAN / Photo by Natalia KRAVCHUK

The Day has repeatedly addressed the problem of restructuring orphanages and moving towards family-based solutions. The topic was also recently tackled by the guests of the political talk-show Shuster Live. Perhaps politicians too will see the use of having families take care of children. And we will no longer hear from them that orphanages should be consolidated and their network should be expanded in Ukraine. As it is known, this summer Prime Minister Mykola Azarov made statements to this effect. Public organizations immediately protested the idea, and the charitable fund of Rinat Akhmetov together with the Yaremenko Ukrainian Institute for Social Studies conducted a comparative analysis of orphanages, children’s homes, and foster families, in order to convince the government that the focus should be on family forms of care.

Where is the best place for an orphan to live, in an orphanage or in a foster fami-ly? Obviously, there will be more arguments in favor of the latter. Because even if the adults raising a child are not his or her biological parents, they are still the child’s parents, they give love, the feeling of family, home and confidence in the future. One can hardly find that in an institution like an orphanage.

At present there are 20 thousand children staying in institutions of orphanage type. Only four percent of Ukrainians believe that a child deprived of parental care should be educated in specialized institutions: orphanages or children’s houses. So the opinions of the population and specialists coincide: one should find alternatives to orphanages.

“According to our survey, children in orphanage-type institutions feel serious psychological distress, while children from institutions with family types of education assess their psychological state as ‘good,’” said Olha Balakireva, the head of board of the Yaremenko Ukrainian Institute for Social Studies. “Almost all graduates of orphanages think about their future, but half of them mentioned that its indefiniteness frightens them. Speaking about institutions of orphanage type, violence is a big problem there. Every seventh person to come out of an orphanage asserts that he or she was the victim of violence during their stay there. I will use a few quotes: ‘I was beaten at school, and now I know children are beaten at such schools. This was a method of education’; ‘I went outside the territory of the orphanage and was late for a class. The educator grabbed my hair and beat my head on the table.’ There is proof of psychological, physical, and sexual violence. Children fear to oppose it, they cannot do anything. Society also turns a blind eye — we don’t have an open dialog, and those who hurt children are not held accountable.”

With what spiritual and psychological state do the children who experienced violence enter the external world?! If they overcome this, manage to forget, it will be fine. But what if they do the same in their own families, because they do not know any other way of education? Both educators of orphanages and representatives of local government recognize cases of violation of the rights of orphans and people deprived of parental care, but the guilty are almost never punished. It seems that it is better to conceal all this than have a public discussion.

Psychologists also study how children prepare themselves for future life. According to Balakireva, a considerable part of the surveyed children are not ready for the reality of adult life. The easiest way to do it is to give them some profession. However, the practice of professional preparation in orphanages is almost inexistant in Ukraine. Only every fourth child received professional training, but not all of them are satisfied with it and are not going to work in the specialty they obtained.

“The problem of accommodation is not less urgent. On the one hand, children often do not have a place to live after they leave. On the other hand, a part of them have a formal residence, but in fact cannot return there for different reasons: because it is not suitable, in terrible condition, or because other relatives live there,” continued Balakireva. “A part of the surveyed continue living in orphanages after graduating. But this is not a way out for a child who cannot leave this vicious circle and become a full-fledged member of the society. The accommodation problem often influences the choice of the further course of life, in particular, education. They choose education depending on whether the educational establishment provides hostels. Comparing with the accommodation problem of children in houses with family forms of education, their accommodation problem is solved much more easily.” This is because, according to the existing legislation, graduates of institutions of home types can continue living in their foster family even after they come of age. The situation with their education is much better as well. First, there is an individual approach in choosing the profession, very often foster parents help choose the educational establishment, and a place of residence is not a deciding factor in choosing where to pursue further education. Certainly, social ties with a foster family are better. At the same time, half of the children who attended orphanages do not visit their teachers, every tenth girl and every twentieth boy do not have a friend, and every sixth points out difficulties in initiating contacts with new friends. What socialization can one talk about if most orphanage graduates do not have communication skills and cannot make contacts? And they don’t have a possibility to learn such skills.

Therefore, no wonder that a third of orphanage-leavers do not consider themselves to be happy, and 10 percent do not have dreams at all, that is they do not have an objective or goal they want to achieve. These are the psychological features that every young person of this age should have, according to experts.

Where to go, where to look for a job, how to make new friends and position oneself in society — almost all students of orphanages think of it. When asked who they are, every fourth conceals his or her status of being an orphan. “I’m extremely ashamed of it. I wish I had parents. When children from families came to us, they said nothing good would become of us,” writes one of the survey participants. In addition, our society is not ready to accept them. “There is a stereotype: if you’re an orphan, you’re a thief. People stay away from us, for them we are labeled as unreliable,” this is a quote from the questionnaire of one more survey participant. In this case, it is not the problem of orphans but of society in general.

How can one fight against it? Experts suggest debunking the myths and stereotypes about how bad people orphans are. It is impossible to do it top-down, and no laws and resolutions will help here. Each of us should change our attitude. Based on the conclusions of the study, experts also prepared a few recommendations for local government bodies, including to improve the social programs for orphanage-leavers, improve the programs of professional preparation, and check if the existing violence prevention measures are efficient. As abandoning the use of orphanages in one day is impossible, and because it requires time, money, and patience, expert recommendations should definitely be taken into account. One should also take into consideration the fact that the best solution is continuing to develop family forms of education for orphans and children deprived of parental care. Because it deals not with some things or objects, but members of our society, real people with their own personalities, problems and hardships.

By Inna LYKHOVYD, The Day

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