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Orphan map of Ukraine: changing green for red?

August 14, 2011, 23:00 4909 Author: Alla Kotlyar, Photo by Andrew Tovstyzhenko, translated by Elena Guda zn.ua There are about 8 million 80 thousand children in Ukraine. 98 thousand of them are orphans and children without parental care. Only the third part of these children can be adopted

There are about 8 million 80 thousand children in Ukraine. 98 thousand of them are orphans and children without parental care. Only the third part of the number can be adopted. At that, risk to become an orphan is three or four times higher in the Eastern part of the country then in its West. This was said by Lyudmila Volynets, the co-president of All-Ukrainian public organization “Child protection service”, during her presentation of the Ukrainian orphanage map colored in accordance with the danger factors at a practical workshop called “A family for each child” held on the 10th of July. Red color on the map represented the worst situation; yellow stood for average indicators and green showed the best ones for the country. “If orphans make 0,5% of the total number of children in the western regions, in the eastern part this number rises to 1,8–2%. The record in this sad statistics belongs to Nikolaev region: 2,2% (4,5 thousand children). High death rates of able-bodied population and high levels of criminality in the region together with some other factors of adult society lead to children becoming orphans.” The situations are also unfavorable in Dniepropetrovsk and Donetsk regions. On the contrary, in Ternopol, Chernovtsy and Lvov regions there are practically no orphans. The greatest number of adoptions is in Kiev and Sevastopol; in Donetsk, Lviv and Kherson regions. And although in Ukraine recently a tendency towards decrease in the number of cases of parents abandoning their children has been observed (starting from 2005 through 2010 the decrease rate came to 41%. According to the State statistic committee, the number of abandoned children was decreasing in the inverse proportion to the number of births in the country and in the linear response to the increase in the state support sums), it is not likely that social orphanage can be eliminated completely. Anyway, the situation can be significantly improved. But it seems that the present Ukrainian government is much less interested in this than the previous one. Indeed, ex-president V. Yushchenko didn’t lack in his political will and personal control in part of the lives of orphans and children without parental care…

Polish experience in the reformation of the system of settling orphans in families was presented in the frames of the workshop. At the beginning of the 1990th this country started to implement the policy of so-called “de-institutionalization”, i.e. to decrease the number of children’s boarding institutions by means of introduction of a new social service system aimed at preventive measures for children’s ill-being and trouble; at the integration of children back into their biological families; at settling children in family environment; at children’s obtaining abilities and skills necessary for leading independent lives and creating families.

Each year both Poland and Ukraine take efforts to improve the situation of the orphans and children without parental care through introduction of different normative and legislative acts and legislation enhancement. Experts and politicians are busy finding new ways of resolving the problem. Both Poland and Ukraine still have the practice of deprivation of the parental rights and sending children to children’s homes and boarding schools. At present, about 25–30 thousand of small Poles live in such institutions (the number of small Ukrainians is comparatively the same: according to the last year’s statements of N. Azarov, 28 thousand of children live in the children’s houses and boarding schools in our country). Three thousand of them are under the age of five. As is well known, when Poland joined the European Union in 2004, the latter set a series of requirements for bringing Polish family legislation into the adequate state and assigned financing with this purpose. This April, Poland passed a law in the area of family support for both biological (orphanage prevention) and foster families. Ukraine which started the process ten years later can only envy some of the norms of the Polish law at present. In particular, the norm aimed at the decrease of the number of children living in boarding institutions (not more than 30 persons and not more than 14 persons by the year 2020); appointing family assistants and coordinators for alternative care; change in the legal state of foster families. In addition, now Polish foster parents can have a 30-day vacation during which another foster family will take care of their children.

A serious difference between the Polish and Ukrainian experiences in the area lies in the fact that our country started bringing to order its family legislation independently, not waiting for the EU recommendation and without any funds for the activities. After the country clearly set the priorities in the area it started making amendments and changes. Thus, adoption comes first among the forms of family settling of Ukrainian children-orphans and children without parental care. The next place is occupied by guardianship and trusteeship, mostly in the families of relatives. Then come adoptive families and children’s homes of family type. A child can be sent to a boarding institution only after all the other possibilities of settling him/her in a family are used up. But even sending a child to a boarding institution does not cancel the guardianship body’s responsibility to continue the process of finding a family for the child. Unfortunately, the latter norm is not always observed by the corresponding Service. A story of ZN.UA described in the article “For the softening of hearts, or an adoption story” can serve as an example for this. (№15 dated 22 April 2011). Meanwhile, according to L. Volynets, international adoption means failure of the state to protect its own children.

However the progress of Ukraine in the area of the de-institutionalization of children is evident. In 2010, the number of children in the boarding houses under the patronage of the Ministry of Science and Education equaled 5412 people. In comparison to 2005 (11654), the number has decreased for more than twice. At this, the number of children living in foster families and children’s homes of family type made up 9024 last year. And this is almost eight times more than in 2005 (1313). Ukrainians who have decided to adopt children obtain from the state a one-time financial support, the same as for the birth of the first child. Starting from 2005, the number of national adoptions has increased from 1419 to 2247 in 2010. The number of the international ones, on the contrary, has correspondently decreased from 2156 to 1202.

By the way, introduction of one-time payments during adoption gave rise to a lot of discussion: whether Ukrainians will practice adoption because of the money. But actually, it is not possible to become rich receiving initial 4800 UAH necessary for purchase, at the least, a minimum set of clothes for the child (it’s not a secret that foster parents usually take children from boarding institutions in the clothes they bring with them), to arrange a sleeping place and to prepare the child to school. In the society in general and in the mass media in particular, there is a strong negative disposition in part of this though it’s not always justified. Thus, for instance, it was hardly mentioned that some time ago stray children “disappeared” from the streets. But a lot of people write that adoptive families and children’s homes of the family type are a negative phenomenon because they are grounded solely on the commercial interest of the foster parents. According to Lyudmila Volynets, after such publications foster parents often want to know whether there’s a possibility to bring actions against the insulting editions. Unfortunately there is no possibility to protect 3700 foster families (that is the number in Ukraine) from calumny without mentioning particular surnames.

Both in Poland and Ukraine boarding institutions oppose their reforming. Thus, in Poland boarding schools contrive to evade the norm “not more than 30 children” dividing 90 children into 3 groups with separate management and staff. At this, all of them continue to live under the same roof and have a common infrastructure.

In Ukraine in 2007, on the initiative of the Ministry of Science and Education, the second part of the Article 18 of the Law dated 2005 “About provision of organizational-legal conditions for social protection of orphans and children without parental care” saying that each boarding institution can be comprised of not more than 50 children was excluded from the document. Why was this norm important? If there are less than 50 children in an orphanage this does not allow for organization of a secondary school in its scope where children would be taught in isolation without receiving any experience of life in the society. Though this amendment was considered unconstitutional in 2008, even at present no one can be sure that there are any possibilities to restore the norm.

The principle “money follows the child” in part of the boarding institutions in Ukraine does not work yet. (An experimental project in the Kyiv region dedicated to the principle “money follows the child” and financed by the state in 2006 appeared to be of a short-term and separated nature. Unfortunately, its action didn’t cover children in the boarding institutions). On the contrary, boarding institutions get money first and children are “drawn” on the basis of it afterwards. At present, the number of children in the infants’ homes and in the boarding institutions has decreased for 40%. Outflow of the children endangers the material-technical basis and the number of the staffs of the boarding schools. So, after N. Azarov stated last year that the conditions in the existing boarding schools needed improvement and new boarding schools should be built, officials started to resolve the problem at the expense of children taken away from their families. There were cases in Zaporozhye region when boarding schools organized sanatorium groups. Instead of working with problematic families in an effort to preserve children’s biological families, boarding school staffs persuade parents to send children with poor health to such groups. So-called orphan health groups are working 24 hours a day seven days a week. The danger lies in the possibility that children in these groups will eventually be taken away from the families and “adopted” by the state institutions. It’s not improbable, that in future boarding schools for orphans and children without parental care will accept healthy children from problematic families. Meanwhile, the UN committee is concerned by the high and stable number of cases of deprivation of parental rights in Ukraine as is, because this practice leads to a great number of children who do not have a possibility to grow in the family environment. In 2010, 7939 parents were deprived of their parental rights.

During 2010—2011, due to the conditions of uncertainty and the absence of priorities to be normally demonstrated by the high state authorities, the scope of national adoptions started to diminish, too. According to Yuri Pavlenko, the ex-minister in the area of the family, youth affairs and sports, “there’s a high risk of cutting down national adoption in general and returning to the situation we had 6 years ago when in Ukraine international adoption prevailed over the national one. The reason given at the time was that Ukrainians did not want to adopt because they were poor, unhappy and angry. In reality, when the state proposed an understandable adoption mechanism and full-value service of children protection, the situation changed drastically within two years.

In May, during the round table called “Humiliation and violence against children. Ukrainian reality”, Yuri Pavlenko has noted that last year the number of the adopted children decreased for 40%. “There are no objective reasons for this; the legislation stays the same; the norms and priorities of the legislation and the normative documents have not changed. The only thing that has changed is responsibilities of the government bodies of all the levels. Within a year and a half the following has completely been destroyed: the organizational structure and the staff the training of which had taken much effort; the entire resource basis; the Ministry in the area of the family, youth affairs and sport. No alternative has been proposed instead. The state has got out of resolving these issues and now we face the first results by the definite examples of children’s fates. It will be much regretted if the green color starts to disappear from the map of Ukraine replaced by yellow or red in which case it will be even sadder…

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