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The Hostages of the Orphanages

June 20, 2013, 11:30 2689 Author: Alexandra Tymoschuk, translated by Maria Romanko gazeta.zn.ua On the eve of the Children’s Day the state officials might once again remember their promised intentions to reorganize the current state orphanage system and move from institutionalization to a family-based care

On the eve of the Children’s Day the state officials might once again remember their intentions to reorganize state orphanage institutions into family-based children’s homes, and hopefully this time these plans will be fulfilled.

Today twenty thousand children are staying in Ukrainian state orphanages and belong to the system that in fact deprives them of the right to live a full life after they attain their majority. These kids don’t have access to quality education and are not taught the necessary social skills to help them in their adult life after leaving the state institutions.

The story of Stas Demetra from Zakarpatye is a vivid example of it. For 17 years the boy has been living in an institution for mentally-retarded children but when a supervision board arrived, it turned out that the boy had been there by mistake. It happened because in Ukraine children are sent to the state institutions not according to their particular needs but where it happens to be a vacant place for them. The state system sends retarded orphans as well as handicapped children to the specialized institutions. And all of them get the same social services despite their actual needs.

When Stas turned 18, the status of a mentally retarded child was revoked from him and he obtained a certificate of basic secondary education from Dombokovskaya boarding school – even though he could hardly read and write. However, as a person who reached the age of majority he had to become a self-sufficient citizen of Ukraine, he had to find a job and get settled in life all on his own. He was dismissed from the institution though his level of socialization corresponded to the one of a 5-year-old.

For some time Stas had been homeless until the Office of Children’s services of the Municipal Council of Mukachevo gave him a place in a dormitory accommodation. They couldn’t do more for the orphan because according to the law he had to provide for himself. If not for the volunteers from Mukachevo, the young man would have died from cold and hunger as he had neither clothes nor money to buy food. Sometimes kind neighbors brought him something to eat. However, Stas refused to go back to the institution where he had spent so many years, even despite the pressure from both the dormitory administration and the social service representatives. Sure it was easier for them to tag Stas “disabled” and give him a place to sleep in a specialized institute for the retarded, a meal 3 times a day and a monthly pension of 800 hryvnyas (100 US dollars) than to make him a capable member of society.

Fortunately, for Stas some good people decided to help him. In spite of many bureaucratic barriers the necessary papers were obtained. The young man also underwent a medical exam during which the severe form of pneumonia was revealed. He got treated at the hospital but after that – again, no prospects for the future.

“This is not because he is an orphan, but because he is a mentally retarded orphan. And such people are a burden to Ukraine”, says an employee of the Mukachevo Centre for legal information and consulting. “Such people are not admitted by the educational institutions and the employers. That’s why we worked out a plan of his socialization: several times a week we work with Stas on his Ukrainian and literature, we teach him to read and write, and just to live. He is a healthy (though very skinny), cheerful and talkative guy. His life has got more meaning now”.

Unfortunately, Ukraine has adopted this kind of system: at first the orphan children are sent to the state institutions where they get the “mentally retarded” diagnosis and where they degrade, not develop. Then they are given a certificate of secondary education – the proof of their self-sufficiency. And then a person gets into a vicious circle: after getting into orphanage at a very young age he stays there till his death because of his incapability to live outside of a state institution. The terrible thing is that everything is according to the law!

“This scenario is convenient for the staff of the orphanages because fewer children means fewer working places for them”, explains Roman Romanov, the director of the program “Priority of the law” of the International Renaissance Foundation. This system is locked on itself. It has monopoly of the right of education, upbringing, socialization and rehabilitation of orphans but it doesn’t fulfill its obligations and produces new clients for the institutions for adults”.

“However the biggest problem is that this system is not open to the society”, says Miroslava Pilipchinets, the lawyer and the volunteer of the Charity Fund of informational and educational initiatives “Development”. “For a long time the general supervision of this sort of institutions was performed only by the law enforcement agencies, and they did it without going into details of the children’s lives there”.

It was a common thing that orphans who were hyperactive and rebellious to the strict rules of these institutions were sent to the psychiatric asylums where they were treated from the disorders they never had. A board of specialists from a corresponding part of Ukraine, consisting of psychiatrists, doctors and teachers gave approval to these actions sometimes even without seeing the patients personally but judging only by the accompanying papers. Stas Demetra had been a victim of such actions for several times. One can prevent this from happening only if the society tightens control over education, upbringing, socialization and rehabilitation of the kids in the orphanages. The society should change its attitude to this kind of children overall.

According to Charkov institute of social research, in Ukraine there are 55 orphanage institutions in the responsibility of the Ministry of social affairs, and 687 boarding “internat” schools in the responsibility of the Ministry of Science and Education. The data shows that in Ukraine there are 95.5 thousand orphans and children growing without parental care. 20 thousand out of them reside in orphanage institutions.

The representatives of the Independent monitoring association decided to embrace such a big quantity of orphans by descending upon various kinds of “detention” institutions, orphanages in particular. The association’s functioning became possible due to the implementation of the National preventive mechanism last year.

“We managed not only to examine how the human and citizen rights were respected in these institutions but to make this information public. We also found out a range of violations”, says Andrei Chernousov, the head of the Independent monitoring association. “In order to make a fundamental change in the situation, we need support from those who care, and the more people the better. It is also necessary to come up with the standards of social services, offered in this kind of institutions and make the staff keep to these standards. Only in such a way it can be possible to highlight different specializations that will help to approach every child’s situation in a more personal way. As this is very important in the current conditions when the transition from the old system of orphanage institutions towards family-based children’s homes is still a long way to go”.

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