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A Shortage of Families

February 11, 2005, 0:00 2569 Author: Liudmyla RIABOKON, The Day The Day

THE SHASHKOV FAMILY TRIES TO SPEND ITS LEISURE TIME TOGETHER, DOING KARAOKE, PLAYING CHESS, SOLVING CROSSWORD PUZZLES, OR SIMPLY CHATTING OVER A CUP OF TEA

“OUR FAMILY HAS MANY TRADITIONS, ESPECIALLY NEW YEAR’S DAY TRADITIONS. WE GET READY FOR THIS HOLIDAY THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE YEAR, COLLECTING COINS IN A PIGGY BANK FOR THE CHRISTMAS TREE AND MAKING COSTUMES FOR THE MASQUERADE. THE YOUNGEST GIRL ALWAYS PLAYS THE ROLE OF GRANDFATHER FROST, AND DAD ALWAYS GETS THE ROLE OF THE SNOW MAIDEN

Ukraine is currently home to nearly ten million children. But not all of them are growing in well-to-do families. Children from problem families are raised in orphanages, boarding schools, and foster families, and are often on the street. The latter are known as homeless children, or street kids. Among them are the so-called social orphans — boys and girls who are completely neglected by their parents. The street forms a peculiar outlook in children, instilling in them its particular values and ideals, which eventually leads to their complete social maladaptation.

BOARDING HOME: SIDE EFFECTS

During the Soviet period boarding homes were the key facilities providing education and accommodation to orphans, with the youngest of them placed in the care of children’s homes. Until they reached the age of majority, these children depended on such institutions for lodgings, food, and legal protection. However, unlike their peers who are raised in families, they were denied the warmth of parental love; the number of people they interacted with was too restricted and their leisure time was too hemmed in by rules. Naturally, such a system of upbringing created a wealth of social problems. Experts point out that even extremely caring instructors cannot provide enough moral and material support to children in boarding schools. In their adult life they are unable to resist bad influences or address their problems with the aid of official institutions.

According to official data, Ukraine’s boarding schools are overcrowded, with up to 300 orphans per institution. Overall, Ukraine is home to over 100,000 orphans and children who are deprived of parental care. Much as we would like to protect them from the dangers of institutional education and hard as we try to emphasize the benefits of family-based forms of upbringing, Ukraine does not have enough families to accommodate all disadvantaged children. In practice, placing a child in a family is no simple matter. Adoptive parents mostly look for healthy infants. Moreover, parenthood comes at a cost that few can afford. Western countries have found a solution in the institution of foster families, which originated in the US and spread to Great Britain and other parts of the world.

LAWS

Let us begin with Ukrainian legislation. The Law “On the Protection of Children” provides for the introduction of family-based forms of raising children deprived of parental care. The procedure of placing children in family-type children’s homes and foster families, as well as the latter’s funding and functioning, are outlined in special provisions and decrees of the Cabinet of Ministers, which determine the status of family-type children’s homes and foster families in Ukraine. A family-type children’s home is a family consisting of a married couple or single adult taking care of five to ten children deprived of parental care. Adults in such families receive the wages of institutional instructors, with housing and child support provided by the local government. Meanwhile, foster parents raising between one and four orphans in their own house or apartment are not relieved of their main jobs and receive child support. In the past two years over 130 family-type children’s homes caring for over 1,000 children and 85 foster families raising a total of 258 children were created in Ukraine. Foster parents receive assistance from social workers, who provide psychological, medical, financial, and legal counseling to family members.

Experts believe that adoption is the best way to solve the problems of an orphan. Yet, given the limited means of subsistence of the Ukrainian population, the foster family is one of the best possible alternatives. Incidentally, Kyiv has the largest number of adoptive parents, while family-type children’s homes are more numerous in the Crimea and Dnipropetrovsk. Decisions to create foster families or family-type children’s homes are the province of the local government, in particular family and youth departments.

In the last while the numbers of people wishing to become foster parents have been increasing. The Family and Youth Ministry is currently developing the concept of foster families for HIV-positive children and studying the possibility of creating a system of guardianship for children whose parents are migrant workers abroad.

It is worth noting that various nongovernmental and civic organizations have also made a significant contribution to the development of family-type forms of child upbringing.

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN

The foster family as a form of raising children de prived of parental care is not a new concept. Researchers have established that as far back as 911 A.D. Kyivan princes established custody of socially disadvantaged persons, in particular orphaned children. Later, in 1037, Yaroslav the Wise laid down the rules for guardianship at the state level in his compendium of laws entitled Ruska Pravda. This was Europe’s first collection of laws designed to protect motherhood and prevent children from becoming orphaned. These laws led to the creation of a state policy on orphans. In Kyivan Rus’ care for such children was the primary responsibility of the princes and the church. It was a matter of piety to donate money or food to orphans.

Specialized institutions for disadvantaged children began to appear and develop under Tsar Peter I. He ordered the creation of hospitals for children born out of wedlock in big cities. Subsequently, members of the royal family and rich merchant families initiated family-type forms of raising children. Forms of family-type upbringing of children similar to foster families were common in the Russian Empire, of which Ukraine was then a part. In particular, under Catherine II patronage was endorsed at the legislative level as one of the forms of child custody. To be a patron meant to assist the homeless, sick children, and juvenile delinquents. Village communities were responsible for providing such assistance. The main goal of such guardianships was to create conditions for professional education. In 1797 Maria Fedorovna, the second wife of Tsar Paul I, occupied herself with the care of orphans. At that time, wards of children’s homes were given over to the care of well-mannered villagers in the so-called Tsar’s villages. The tsarina personally selected inspectors to monitor the upbringing of children and obliged them to conduct inspections. Maria Fedorovna personally requested village instructors to “protect her children” and offered them presents and gratuities as incentives.

BEFORE PROVIDING ASSISTANCE, ASK ABOUT HOW TO HELP

According to Rob van Page, a Norwegian expert on disadvantaged children, today there are two discernible trends in social work: modernist and postmodernist. Advocates of the modernist trend seek to apply as much information and as many scholarly methods as possible to solve problems. Followers of the postmodernist trend are convinced that before trying to help anyone it is necessary to find out whether this person wants this help. Moreover, it is imperative to ask the person concerned about his or her own idea of such assistance. Thus, proponents of the postmodernist trend encourage the person to find a way out of his or her predicament. Put simply, they do not give a person a fish; they teach them how to fish. “If we believe that the solution to the problem lies in saving the child (placing him or her in an orphanage or with a family), this is no help at all. We must change the child,” says Rob van Page, adding, “Every family is unique. We must respect its unique values even if they do not match our personal values. We must involve the family in solving its own problems, and only then help it control its own life.” Tellingly, in Western countries it is common practice to invite all close and distant relatives to big family meetings to make a joint decision about the fate of an orphaned child. A social worker then proceeds to study the family tree to find this child’s direct relatives and place him or her in a new family. As a rule, this painstaking work proves successful, and a family of relatives takes custody of the child, and the state undertakes to support this family financially. The problem of orphans is solved internationally by creating adoptive families. Meanwhile, family-type children’s homes are common only in the post- Soviet space. In such big families, parents act as mentors. However, many children treat them like their fathers and mothers, even if they maintain contacts with their irresponsible biological parents.

“OUR MAIN HOLIDAY IS OUR PARENTS’ WEDDING ANNIVERSARY”

The Shashkov family in Cherkasy has been running a family-type children’s home for the past fifteen years. Oleh and Olena are raising two of their own children and six adopted children. They found out about the possibility of raising both their own and adoptive children from the papers and decided to give it a try. They spent one year visiting a group of children at a children’s home, not knowing who would be selected as their foster children. Several years ago they took in two more children — a young brother and sister — to replace two boys who had grown up. Despite their best intentions, not everything went smoothly. The foster parents had not been informed that one of their boys had mental problems. Unable to cope with him, the family had to return him to the institution.

We wanted to learn as much as possible about this family, but time wouldn’t permit this. At the request of the correspondent the children of the Shashkov family told The Day a little about themselves.

“Our family’s main holiday is our parents’ wedding anniversary. Every year we try to think up something new. One time we prepared a romantic dinner, arranging for the two of them to go to the dacha alone. On another occasion we reminded family friends about their anniversary, which proved to be a pleasant surprise for our parents. Also, on our parents’ anniversary Dad gets up before everybody else, goes out to buy flowers, and wakes Mom up with the scent of roses.”

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