While at Hope Children’s Village yesterday, I got to talk with our hostess’ neighbor Ira, who also has 7 children, some biological, and some under foster care. I asked the two of them some questions about the state of foster care in Russia, and they turned out to be a good source, as they teach a 6 week course for new foster families that this region (essentially a county, Gatchina) offers. Ira told me that when she and her husband started taking in children in 2004, they were the 2nd family in the entire county of 200,000 to have EVER done so!
We talked about why so few Russians do this kind of thing. Several opinions came out, including the obvious lack of concern for children that such a reality implies. But they also pointed out that, whereas in the West, it seems to be common knowledge that there are so many orphans in Russia and the former communist block, Russians themselves hardly knew a thing about it until just very recently. There weren’t even so much as newspaper articles about the plight of abused and neglected children. And the progress? From 2 families in 2004 to now just under 60 foster families in 2010.
I asked about prevention? The government office supposedly over such matters, “Social Defense” actually does nothing of the sort. They just process paperwork. So, whereas in the states and other Western countries there is the not infrequent problem of taking children away from homes for spurious reasons (often related to homeschooling), in Russia children are not saved from dangerous homes until much later than should have been the case.
And what about efforts to rehabilitate families who have had children taken away? The rule is, when your kids get taken, it’s not for good at first. It’s for 6 months. You’ve got that long to prove yourself worthy to have them back. Does a social worker help you do that? Are you offered classes? Are you forced or even offered to do anything? Not at all. For an irresponsible family in a country that is plagued with passivity, it’s like asking them to go get a doctorate in a foreign language. So it doesn’t happen. And so the roles of orphans grow each year, and 90% of them are “social orphans” which means they actually have a family, as opposed to a real orphan.
The state is dead set on reversing this trend, though. Problem is, it doesn’t know how. So in typical Russian style, they do clever things like this one (reported to me by Andrei, our man at MIR responsible for growing the U.S. hosting program): Novgorod has a beautiful and relatively new orphanage in the center of town. Trouble is, it’s closed. I say trouble, because there are no fewer orphans. The administration just moved them out into three other orphanages in the country – facilities that are correspondingly spartan. But the great news is that Novgorod can now say that they have no more orphanages -the last one is closed! What brilliance! Thinking about the rewards they will reap in that Great Day just takes your breath away.
The other strategy is moving the kids into foster care. Sounds good, right? This is what other countries, most notably, the U.S. has done. There aren’t any orphanages in the states. We take care of kids through foster care. And it is certainly far from a perfect system. My own mother worked as a social worker with families who had lost parental rights (but she helped them get them back!) and with foster families to help them succeed too. My mother has no counter part here, as near as I can tell.
Ira told me that not only so, but that of the 15 counties in the “state” (oblast) of Leningrad (which surrounds St. Petersburg), only three of them even offer this class to foster families that she teaches. Otherwise, they just have to fill out the paperwork and they are good to go. (So kudos to Gatchina, not only for seeing the need to teach this class, but also because they were the only region willing to give the land to Hope for the children’s village. The others couldn’t believe that in the motives of the group enough to consider helping.)
The results are predictable, though the extent is horrendous: 30,000 children in the last three years inside Russia were sent back to institutions by their adoptive, foster or guardianship families. Little Yulia that I wrote about meeting at Natasha’s was a casualty of that statistic, but Yulia is as happy as can be. “Love covers a multitude of sins.”
These are the kinds of things that force me to pray and work towards change at both the micro and macro levels. I’m asking the Lord for strategies to reach the family, particularly the husbands/men, and for access to the high places and the gates where decisions are made. Working at one or the other would be otherwise futile.