Russian Federation: Yura finds a family
Thirteen-year-old Yura Parfenov often used to wander around the cold, dark streets of Kaliningrad city, in western Russia, until dawn looking for his alcoholic mother. He lived with his mother and her boyfriend, also an alchoholic, in a tiny room without a window in the basement which was more like a cellar. His mother didn’t work and there was hardly any food available at home.
Yura didn’t start school at the age of seven as is the norm in Russia. He had no school uniform or books. He wasn’t assigned to any of the schools in the neighbourhood. Yura was taken away by social workers and put in an orphanage. He was sent to school and began to do quite well in some subjects.
But there was no privacy at the orphanage. "The elder boys used to bully the youngest and there was no way out of this situation," Yura says. "I got used to it and grew up a little bit so it wasn’t so easy to intimidate me. The educators were good to me and there were three meals a day. I felt lonely there but at least there was food and school."
But children need far more than four walls and a roof over their heads. A child cannot truly grow into a fully-rounded human being without tenderness. Even though educators in the orphanages and boarding schools are eager to give such tenderness to each child, their charges still enter the adult world emotionally and socially unprepared for the problems that await them.
Nadezhda steps in
Yura’s life change dramatically when Nadezhda Tkachenko approached him with an offer he couldn’t refuse. She said to him: “ I will take you in Yura. I will be your foster parent. Do you want to come and live in our family? Yes?” He nodded silently, hiding tears of joy and a small fear of what would happen to him if this fostering didn't work.
Nadezhda Tkachenko, now 48, fostered her first child from the infant orphanage in 1996. That was Vanechka, a three-year-old boy.
"After we had lived with Vanechka for four years, I realized that I was able to help one more child," says Nadezhda.
"It is a very significant deed, fostering. All of us, as adults, understand that these children come from difficult families. They are children of drug addicts and alcoholics. You need to find the resolve in your soul and your heart in order to grow mature enough to undertake such responsibility."
Once she started, there was no stopping her. She subsequently took in Tanya, Olya, Lena, Anya and then Yura.
Today there are six children ranging from 7 to 17 years of age in the Tkachenko household. They live in a two-room apartment and manage to find enough space for every member of the big family. Everybody has his or her own responsibilities.
They help each other with homework, they take turns to cook, wash clothes and iron. They have fun preparing their family newspaper and preparing special gifts for family birthdays. Yura couldn’t hide his tears when he got a real watch for his birthday, the first birthday present he ever received.
Fostering in Kaliningrad
The Tkachenkos are one of more than 200 foster families in Kaliningrad. The fostering system has been around for a long time and now it is developing in the Russia Federation with UNICEF support.
The programme for the creation of foster families in the Kaliningrad region is supported by UNICEF’s partner, Kaliningrad City Social Assistance Centre for Families and Children.
"We have been working with UNICEF for almost three years on implementing more than one joint project," Nina Vorontsova, the Centre's director says. "Development of a foster care system is a very important and promising programme. Families who make the decision to become foster parents gain in regular income and social status. Children benefit by living a normal family life outside of institutions. The state gains in that the programme reduces the number of children with so-called 'post-institutional' syndrome. That refers to children who, leaving boarding schools and orphanages, are severely disadvantaged in social skills – they are not adapted to life outside of institutions".
The specialists from the Centre first select future foster parents and then make regular visits to foster families, as well as arranging meetings for foster parents in the Centre. They provide psychological counselling to those who need it -- constant professional and dedicated help. The Centre promotes foster care and has the full support of the Kaliningrad city administration.
"Today it costs about 7,000 to 8,000 roubles (US$250 to US$280 dollars) a month to provide for a child in an orphanage," says Tatyana Morozova, the Vice-Mayor of Kaliningrad. "The figure is just a little bit less for a child to stay in a boarding school. To provide for a foster family we also need to invest money but there are certain advantages to doing so.
"First, the foster parents receive an income but the amount needed to support a child in a foster home is considerably less than if they stay in an orphanage. It works out to about 4,000 (US$140) a month. Secondly, children get a place where they can acquire everyday knowledge, a place where they can learn to make independent decisions and gain some skills in human communication. And most importantly, they get love and care in the context of a family environment. That has no price tag."
The backgroundAt the beginning of 2003, Russia’s child population was 30.5 million, with slightly less than 700,000 children who were either orphaned or without parental custody at the end of 2002 (which works out to just over 2% of all Russian children). The total number of children in institutional care in 2001 was approximately half a million (494,700) children, or two out of every hundred children.
The number of children being placed in institutions has been growing at a disconcerting rate over the past ten years, particularly in light of the continued decrease of Russia’s child population. When considering that a large portion of these children in institutions are “social orphans,” i.e. children having living birth parents, these numbers become even more alarming.
It is no secret that children in institutions have faced formidable barriers to obtaining the proper care that would allow them to integrate into society. Children placed in institutional care not only have failed to gain individual developmental needs, but often even the most basic needs for adequate food and hygiene. Harsh physical and psychological conditions at institutions have limited children’s capacities to gain basic life skills for adapting to normal life, thus being virtually conditioned to fail in society after leaving their institutions. While different foster care schemes have been developing, the number of children placed into foster care has remained low.
Recognising these situations, UNICEF has focused on bringing alternative forms of care onto the agenda of social policy-makers at regional and federal levels. Particular attention has been on steps to support families in caring for their children at home and on alternative care structures to transfer institutionalised children into family-based care settings. UNICEF has initiated pilot programmes in the Kaliningrad and Orenburg regions that focus on early family intervention and alternative family-care approaches. These programmes have been strengthened with the establishment of an informal child welfare network among Kaliningrad, Orenburg and Moscow colleagues.
For more information:
John Brittain, Communication Officer, UNICEF Russian Federation: Tel: (+ 7095) 933 8818, email: firstname.lastname@example.org