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SOS Children’s Village provides vital foster families in Ukraine

September 28, 2021, 18:15 297 Author: Natalia Datskevych kyivpost.com Having a truly caring family, with at least one parent, is the dream of thousands of children across Ukraine.

Foster mother Tetiana Koliada

Foster mother Tetiana Koliada hugs a 13-year-old girl, one of six kids she takes care of in the SOS Children’s Village in Brovary, Ukraine, on Sept. 21, 2021.

Having a truly caring family, with at least one parent, is the dream of thousands of children across Ukraine.

As of 2020, Ukraine had 70,000 kids registered as orphans or children who have lost parental care, according to the Ministry of Social Policy.

An overwhelming 92% of them have biological parents, who have failed to provide them with proper care. Placed in one of 650 state-owned and largely underfunded orphanages and boarding schools, these children still don’t receive proper care, education and psychological support after experiencing trauma.

To break this trend, SOS Children’s Village — the world’s largest non-governmental organization helping orphaned children — has been operating in Ukraine for the past 18 years.

In 2010, the Austrian-headquartered nonprofit launched a foster family village in the city of Brovary, Kyiv’s eastern suburb of 108,000 people. There, professional foster parents are taking care of up to 100 of children simultaneously.

“We are preparing kids for an independent life,” said Olena Kripak, director of the Kyiv regional branch of SOS Children’s Village in Brovary. “Step by step, so they won’t be afraid to live on their own.”

In 2017, the Ukrainian government declared its strategy to switch its orphanage system to a foster care model, where kids are supervised by professionally trained foster moms and dads. But not a single state foster care establishment has been launched since then, according to Kripak.

“And where is the state going to send children? The foster care system is not established, and it’s badly supported,” she said.

Foster care

SOS Children’s Village in Brovary stands on a three-hectare land plot in a pine forest. It has 16 two-story houses, where foster parents take care of 6–10 kids on average in each building. Children who live here range from one to 18 years old.

Some of the fosterlings can be in their 20s if they study in universities and need support.

The village was built in 2005 when Ukraine became one of six countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa and Vietnam, that received a portion of the $25 million raised by the international football association FIFA, a long-standing charity benefactor of SOS Children’s Villages.

A team of psychologists, teachers and social workers together with foster parents start to work with a child who arrives to the village. They make plans for one year ahead on how to fill the gaps not only in education, but in their mental health if needed. Very often, newcomers are scared and don’t trust people at all.

“The children come to us very traumatized,” said Kripak. “Once I asked a girl if she loved anyone, and she told me ‘I can’t love anyone, because no one ever loved me, and I don’t trust people’.”

It usually takes around six months for children to begin to open their hearts.

Foster mother Tatiana Koliada, 53, says her fosterlings don’t want to go back to their biological parents because they feel that “it’s better in the village and that we care about them.”

The newly arrived children aren’t just sent to any available foster parent.

“We make a mutual selection,” Kripak said. “We have families, specializing, for example, in working with little kids, or teenagers.”

Starting from 14 years, children engage in the organization’s youth program. It provides career counseling and various classes to help them discover their passions.

“When they were toddlers, many kids dreamed of becoming cooks when they grow up, because they were malnourished,” Kripak said.

Some companies, like logistical and IT firms, give children from the village an opportunity to be their interns, so that they can discover professions and acquire new skills.

Kripak says that those who have already left the village went on to

study in universities, or now successfully work in various fields as human resources specialists, landscape designers and more.

“They don’t want to be just cooks anymore,” she said.

Thanks to the organization, more than 250 children have received foster families in Ukraine.

Through other programs, SOS Children’s Village helped 5,000 children and adults, mostly assisting dysfunctional families with going through crises. It also provided 80,000 children in need with food kits, hygiene products and medicine.

Burning out

Being a foster parent is not an easy job.

Kripak says that the team is always on the lookout for the signs of parents’ burnout. When they see the signs of an extreme exhaustion in one of the employees, they offer professional psychological help.

Foster mother Koliada says she occasionally feels on the verge of quitting her job.

“Sometimes it becomes very difficult, but the psychologist really helps,” Koliada said.

Olena Kripak, director of the Kyiv regional branch of SOS Children’s Village, speaks with the Kyiv Post on Sept. 21, 2021 in Brovary, Ukraine.

If a foster parent burns out and leaves, it might become a tragedy for kids.

“No one wants to have two, three moms,” Koliada said. “Children want to call one woman a ‘mom’.”

At the same time, it’s becoming harder for Kripak to find new foster parents, since many are demotivated by low salaries of $440–550 and poor state support.

“We have very few candidates,” she said.

The state provides foster parents with child care expenses of $185 per month for one child. But that is often not enough.

“When a child gets sick I need to contribute my own money,” Koliada said.

Poor fundraising

The SOS Children’s Village needs an average of $2.7 million per year to pay salaries to 50 employees and to maintain their children programs, according to Olena Onyshchenko,

fund development and communications director.

The fund raises only 10% of the budget in Ukraine — most of it comes from corporate social programs of various companies.

The rest, 90%, the organization gets from either other international charity funds, own resources from SOS International Federation, which operates in 137 countries, or foreign companies.

Though helping people is becoming increasingly popular in Ukraine, according to reports, Onyshchenko says that Ukrainians need to donate more. “It is still untapped potential.”

She believes that the reason Ukrainians rarely donate is the poor economic situation in general and lack of trust in charity organizations.

But according to Viktoria Gudova, the fund’s digital fundraiser, Ukrainians shouldn’t rely on the government to help those in need.

“We need to support our children by ourselves,” Gudova said.

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