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Comment of the Chief Physician of Zaporozhye Infant Home “Solnishko”, Galyna Galkina, to the Article “Children Thrown Away”

March 22, 2011, 21:00 3943 Author: Elena Chukhryi, translated by Anna Oliynyk www.deti.zp.ua When we talk about life of a child, any methods are good.

Not so long ago the article “Children Thrown Away” appeared on our web-site in press review, causing an intense discussion among the readers. We made a try to clarify the position of the Chief Physician of Infant Home “Sonlnishko” (translated as “Sun” or “Sunshine”) Galyna Galkina with regard to some issues brought up in the article.

- Galyna, could you please comment on your words published in “Zaporozhskaya Pravda” about the system allowing any mother to leave her baby at Infant Home “Solnyshko” for temporary care?

Such system is needed to save babies’ lives. Situations occurring in the life of any mother may vary and include in particular temporary mental disorders arising on the background of their crisis state, but they should not make their babies suffer. This is our main message in implementing such programs. This is actually what we work for. This is not our initiative, though we were really the first to launch it. We carried out such campaigns even before 2004, calling young parents who found themselves in a difficult situation not to leave their children but to refer to us to get support. The second message is the necessity to save the biological family of a child. With our help a mother starts realizing that she does not have to leave her baby. With our assistance she can resolve her own problems and then take the child back to the family. Moreover, 90 - 80% of children used to and continue to grow in kindergartens. In the daytime parents do not have an opportunity to see them anyway, so the only difference is that such parents meet their children in the evening to spend a few hours with them before going to bed. We have all grown up in such situation, spending time with our parents at the weekends and in the evenings. So it would be an exaggeration to say that if we take a baby to the orphanage for a period of time, his or her family will become disaccustomed to such child. Here we are choosing the lesser of two evils. In the end, they do not so often become disaccustomed. In the Soviet time there were and there are now kindergartens and boarding schools working round the clock. And many well-known people, such as Matvienko and Yanukovych were brought up in such boarding schools. And it is a big mistake to say that orphanages are retarding children, as here we are talking about quite the opposite thing. Usually foster parents do not adopt children from orphanages and children homes who have some mental or psychical disorders. And of course, when they leave orphanages, we see that such children are not able to adapt in the society. But this is not due to the fact that the orphanage caused their disabilities, but because they had certain disorders from the very beginning.

And there is one more argument supporting such system: when we talk about life of a child, any methods are good.

Of course, salving a family means not just forcing parents to live together with their child. Instead, salving a family means providing support at some stages. And in this case we can help by assuring temporary accommodation and taking care of such child. But it does not mean that the parents left such child and he or she will never go back to the family. People should understand that children’s houses work to overcome the existing problem – denied children – and to prevent such problem. The system is effective and should exist as long as the problem exists.

- What specific prevention activities are carried out at your facility to help the children left with you “for temporary care” go back to their families as soon as possible?

I have been working in this sphere for twenty years, and I have a right to have my own vision of this situation. I know that those parents, who want to leave their child, will leave him or her anyway. A certain share of parents after registering a baby in an orphanage will leave him or her in any case. But I’d like to say that as early as in the Soviet times (and I have been working in this area since then), children were brought here “for temporary care”. Such practice has always been in place. Though now it is presented as something new. Analyzing our activities, I can say that when we work with a family we receive a positive outcome. If an ordinary family finds itself in a tight corner, we take a baby from it for a while. And of course we work with the family – all the specialists (social psychologist, psychologists, educators, and legal officers) work according to their own program. We do not appoint one specific day for such work, as these activities are carried out every day, every minute and every second, as soon as one of the parents or other relatives comes here. It is mandatory that such person gets a permission to see the child. We have this rule in order to make such person come to the administration and we start to talk with him or her at once. We always try to figure out how we can help in each particular case. We are now able to save 80% of those families which is a rather big share, before this indicator used to be 50-40%. We also often provide assistance to parents not to be deprived of their parental rights. Our position is saving mothers for all children. Another thing is when a child cannot live in a family for any reasons.

The laws provide that any mother leaving her child at a children’s house for a period of time should demonstrate interest towards and take care of her child at least once every two months. If she fails to comply with this requirement, she is warned and the child is transferred to the category of children “deprived of parental care”. In such case we send a formal notification to the relevant authorities. And then they take measures depending on the particular case. The requirements which apply to any mother bringing her child for temporary care are as follows: we need to see that the mother stays in touch with the child and demonstrates interest to his or her life and health.

- And who defines the list of reasons for which a mother can leave her child for “temporary” care in Solnishko? And what are the admissible reasons included into such a list?

There is a special regulation on orphanages stating that children from crisis families have a right to stay in orphanages. This regulation is a part of our Charter.

It is not possible to make an exhaustive list of all life circumstances. But according to the law the main categories of women having a right to bring their children for temporary care are single mothers and mothers of children, who have hard consequences of disabilities. All items of the list are difficult to enumerate. A family may just be in crisis state, not having money to buy meals for the child, not having a possibility to get the child admitted to a kindergarten, when mothers have to go to work. Sometimes we even take children from full families if a child is not able to get accustomed at a standard kindergarten due to speech defects or vision defects, then we take such children for rehabilitation.

- How many children are currently staying in Solnishko and what is the share of children who have parents among them? And how many mothers finally leave their child not taking him or her back to the family?

Currently there are 250 children in Solnishko, and 30% of them have parents. 15-20% of mothers leave their children at the end (most often they are mothers from socially vulnerable populations, mothers using drugs, ex-prisoners or mentally disabled women).

The main goal of our activities – not to make children suffer because of difficult conditions of their mothers’ lives, and only on a second-priority basis we are trying to save the biological family for the child.

Comment of the Director of the Happy Child Charity Foundation Albert Pavlov:

It is clear that in certain situations temporary stay of a child in a children’s house or an orphanage may be the only option available, e.g. if the mother has to stay at a hospital with another child, or is imprisoned, or is ill and not able to take care of her child for a while.

In such critical situations parents or caretakers of the child should request assistance of social workers of the Center of Social Services or the officers of the Department for Children. The priority task of the social workers is taking the child back to his or her family, even if such child stays at an orphanage for a while.

Thus, the social security departments shall take all the efforts to help parents take their child back to the family as soon as possible.

Besides, there are alternative options to help a family in crisis situation, apart from taking the child to an orphanage – e.g., ask close relatives for assistance, pay for the services of a baby-sitter or a housekeeper, provide psychological support, take the child to a foster family for a period of time. All those options are much cheaper than full state funding.

If orphanage workers are the ones to work with the biological family, there is a conflict of interests: the funding of orphanages and the number of their staff directly depends on the number of children staying there.

The same is the situation with orphanages for children over 7. Most of such facilities in Zaporozhye region made amendments to their statutory documents and now are able to accommodate not only orphans but also children from families with low income or having many children.

Moreover, chief officers of some orphanages do not conceal the fact that they organize special “raids” in villages, offering low-income families to give their children to the facility. The children have a right to come home at the weekend or every day after classes but in fact after parents make such a decision many children become orphans as such parents are not eager to take their children home even at the weekend.

Thus, trying to save the outdated orphanage system, which was denied by the majority of developed countries, the state prefers to bring children up in orphanages, spending UAH 3 - 10 thousand per child every month. As a result, children lose the opportunity to live in a family atmosphere, to be adequate members of society and to obtain life skills in the family.

We intend to continue studying this issue and will take all the efforts for the state to operate and bring benefits to children and not to orphanage workers.

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