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The reformation of the Ukrainian orphanage system is in full swing. Actually the first goal of this reform was to reduce the number of orphans by encouraging their adoption. As a result, the percentage of orphaned children who find themselves in orphanages is 30% lower compared with the two previous years. However, such a situation may cause a significant financing decrease for orphanage institutions by the government, as they are funded based on how many children are living in them. And it goes without saying that this reform does not really appeal to the Education system of Ukraine. Even though it seems paradoxical, the officials have decided to solve this issue at the expense of children living in families.
Are you coughing? – Then go to the orphanage!
The outflow of pupils from orphanages threatens orphanage staff with financial and technical resource reduction. Despite the dream of creating a Ukraine without orphanages, the people in power are not in any hurry to close such institutions.
The number of pupils of the Matvijivka Comprehensive Secondary Boarding School has decreased for the last fourteen years from 370 to 216 children. The boarding school administration compensates for the lack of children with two preschool health care groups opened two years ago. There are 45 children at present. Among the pupils who 24 hours a day and seven days a week stay within the walls of the boarding school are 17 orphaned children and 12 toddlers. The parents of the younger children are mostly doing well, but due to some financial difficulties or a busy work schedule decided to bring their little ones to this boarding school.
The boarding school’s admission procedure is pretty easy: the group consists of children who often suffer from upper respiratory tract infections or digestive organs problems.
The headmistress of the Matvijivka Boarding School, Larisa Konkova, notes that the most widespread reason for children from villages coming to this institution is the sad fact of a lack of money. Parents often have no job, or on the contrary their job occupies all their time, so they prefer to leave their children in a full boarding school pension. Sometimes pupils of the boarding school are difficult children, whose parents just cannot cope with them. Many teachers believe that such care groups will be popular until the economic situation in Ukraine is stabilized. There were also cases when families with their children from the west of Ukraine came to visit some of their friends or relatives here but came back home without their little children. These children have nothing to do but to stay in this boarding school.
Additional groups for first and fourth grade pupils are going to be opened here next year.
A Sad Habit
Such orphanage health care groups have been established already at the Berdyansk, Molochansk and Matvijivka Boarding schools. According to parents’ reports, all in all there are 95 children in these orphanage care groups, and even more, 257, in specialized institutions.
This orphanage system reform should be completed by 2017.
The Orphanage Institutions Sector Manager Igor Shpirny cannot exclude the possibility that the situation in the near future when orphanages and boarding schools will consist both of healthy children as well as children from unhappy families. The Education System of Ukraine does not really wish to lose its financial and technological support and experienced workers. Therefore, orphanage institutions will not be closed down regardless of the fact that the number of children taken to orphanages was reduced in 2005 from 384 to 37 in 2010.
The volunteers of “The Happy Child” Charity Foundation whose main project is to bring orphans into families report that administrators of some regional orphanage institutions are against such an initiative. And what’s more some of them even claim that it’s illegal to publish the orphan profiles on the Charity Foundation’s website. “Happy Child” Charity Foundation member Victoria Mochalova is sure that thanks to the project of publishing children’s profiles on the website, families have recently started adopting older children who usually have few chances to find a family.
Another way to encourage families in Zaporizhia to adopt children is the so-called ‘hosting project” which gives you an opportunity to take children from orphanages home for weekends. However there’s still no law which would describe this hosting procedure, so it totally depends on an orphanage administration whether you are allowed to host children or not. Even if a potential host family takes an active part in orphans’ lives, they are mostly not allowed to take children home unless they are their relatives.
It Cuts Both Ways
When I arrived at the Zaporizhia educational-rehabilitation center at orphanage #3 , I found its headmistress Ekaterina Sharikova delightfully busy. At that very day an Italian couple was adopting two brothers Roman and Sergey. Some kind people took the boys from the street when they were in search of food. Their mother did not feed them at all; she was busy with arranging her personal life. Moreover, she used to beat her little sons regularly. And it is no wonder that the boys did not want to see their mother anymore when she was finally deprived of parental rights.
There are currently 90 orphans among the 124 children in the orphanage. There’s also a rehabilitation group for children with locomotive system problems. 10 of 30 such pupils stay at the orphanage permanently.
The teacher says that the most terrible thing is that children from unhappy families are almost never taken home. If earlier such families were deprived of parental rights immediately, now the government uses such measures quite seldom. Consequently, children’s interests are often not taken into account. It would be great if children from such families could work with psychologists and representatives of social services.
“The parents deprived of parental rights go on drinking alcohol and never care about paying child support to their kids”, - says Ekaterina Sharikova. “The mechanism of bringing such parents to criminal charges is not completed yet. Besides, children themselves plead for their careless parents by crying and asking not to put their mom and dad in jail”.
Ekaterina Pavlovna believes that children from low-income families have no real chances to fulfill their ambitions in comprehensive secondary schools. She thinks that the usual routine for such kids is nothing more but school desks, lessons, and playing in the street. Parents who hardly make their ends meet and are often alcoholics do not care about all-around development for their children. At the same time children who stay in orphanages have an opportunity to go to participate in swimming, playing football, singing in a choir or dancing after school classes. On weekends, the children at orphanages can attend various amateur clubs or practice any kind of sport.
There is a specialized group for children with learning difficulties in the Zaporizhia orphanage # 3 since 2001. Such children study according to a specially developed curriculum.
“If such a child attends a usual school, it will not bring any good results anyway. We often have requests from parents who are simply fed up by the poor learning progress of their child who lost any interest for lessons and any hope to reach the level of his or her classmates. By the way, parents who live in the city usually take their children back home every evening, and the ones who live in remote villages usually come to take their children back for weekends”, - says the vice-principle Alexandr Pavlosvky.
There are also cases when parents from villages try to put their intellectually well-developed children in the group of the children with learning difficulties. They surely get refused. However we have never experienced a situation when problem-free families wished to leave their child in our orphanage. And here the question comes up: “Is that fair to leave children in such problem families and protest against an orphanage education? Would not it be better to improve the system of the state support and control of such parents from the risky group and only after that start speaking about a battle against orphanage institutions?”
Concerning the hosting project, it also should be legally systemized. Orphanage administrations are just afraid of making such a step because in case of some problems all the responsibility would be shifted on them. That’s why they usually give host permissions to those parents who visit orphans for at least half a year.
Specialists do not deny that even the best orphanage will never substitute a real family but it’s only on the condition that a child is loved in this family.