The adherents of deinstitutionalization ideas – international organizations, politicians, public and religious leaders, human rights activists, volunteers, artistes, former pupils of these institutions and their close ones – cite numerous proofs in favor of abolishing institutional care. We see the Sumy region actively implementing new forms of working with orphans and children deprived of parental care. This year, the patronage family program is being actively implemented, and we have numerous examples of families responding to children’s problems.
We spoke about deinstitutionalization reform and the problems of children and families with Tetiana Shevchenko, the Head of Sumy Regional Center of Social Services for Families, Children and the Youth.
Ukraine has the Association Agreement with the EU, stipulating a certain number of requirements in the most diverse areas, including gender equality and rights of the child. Whose rights does your institution defend, protect and care about?
Tetiana Shevchenko: Our Regional Center of Social Services for Families, Children and the Youth is one of the institutions in a network of centers providing social services to families and persons who found themselves in difficult life situations. Besides these categories, we work with families raising orphans and children deprived of parental care: adoptive families, family-type children’s homes. Among the recipients of our services are family members of ATO combatants, persons with disability, graduates of boarding schools, conditionally sentenced juveniles, and all those who cannot solve problems themselves and need help.
Speaking about reforms, you are the ones directly concerned with deinstitutionalization reform. Can you explain what that means? And is it really possible to abolish boarding schools in our country?
T.S.: Indeed, a reform with the difficult-to-pronounce name “deinstitutionalization” was launched in Ukraine in the summer of 2017. This is a process of reforming the system of providing care to children, based on the principle of the child’s best interests and recognition of the priority of family raising and of the damage caused by such forms of caregiving as children’s homes and boarding schools. In other words, this reform is not about closing down boarding schools, as it is often being interpreted. It is not about the savings, and least of all, not about children finding themselves in the street tomorrow. Until and unless there is an assurance that a child taken into a family will be safe and secure there, nobody will take that child from the boarding school.
This reform is about creating conditions in which boarding schools won’t be needed anymore. The key idea behind the reform is that all children must live with their biological parents regardless of the state of their health, degree of development and social status. For that purpose, we should timely react to the children’s woes and provide support to families with children to make sure that parents do not give their children to a boarding school for maintenance and upbringing. And to achieve that, we need to develop social services and make them available regardless of the child’s place of residence and state of health.
The first family of a patronage caregiver became operational in Lebedyn back in early 2018
In the course of reform, a family receives services and assistance to help preserve it and promote full-fledged development of the child; adoption and familial forms of alternative caregiving become the priority forms of providing care to children who lost parental care due to orphanhood, domestic violence or parental negligence; the institutions are transformed into specialized service centers or closed down.
In other words, we are saying that preventing a disease is always easier than treating it. If we identify the problem in due time, promptly devise a solution strategy and take action, in most cases social orphanhood could be averted by preserving biological family. The family is always better for the child than any institution, no matter how good it is. Moreover, prevention of social orphanhood is eight times cheaper than maintenance of boarding schools and orphanages.
Did this reform encounter resistance in our city? Why?
T.S.: Although many opponents agreed that boarding schools are evil, there are many of those opposing the reform of this system today. And the most serious of these opponents are not always the principals and the staff of these institutions who are afraid of losing their job, especially if a boarding school is located in a small town and, in fact, is the town’s major employer.
Not all people equally understand the meaning of this reform yet. Decentralization takes place today; communities are being established, and we transfer the powers concerning protection of orphans and children deprived of parental care to them. Unfortunately, the heads of unified territorial communities often make a remark that they would better give a child to the boarding school to get rid of headache. The most important question is often what the institution’s premise should be transformed into. Solution options are being proposed without analyzing the individual situation of every child.
In order for deinstitutionalization to enter the active phase, all organizations concerned must arrive at the same understanding of all deinstitutionalization processes at the regional and local levels, assume responsibility for the reform and oversee it.
It is worth noting that the network of social service centers for families, children and the youth has a regional coach for deinstitutionalization who has already held several training courses for members of interagency working groups for reform of the system of institutional care for and upbringing of children in the region, and for directors of these centers.
Patronage family is one of the forms of implementing this reform. Could you please tell more about how it is being implemented here, in Sumy? How the information campaign was conducted, how participants (families) were selected and trained, and what is the result we have?
T.S.: There long have been talks that public boarding schools aren’t the best place for accommodating and raising children. Still, until last year, there were no alternatives to the upbringing in conditions approximated to a familial environment, besides familial forms of upbringing, available to children left without parental care in the Sumy region.
Beginning from 2016, the network of social service centers for families, children and the youth has been actively implementing a new service of providing care to, raising and rehabilitating children who found themselves in difficult life conditions: patronage over the child. Thus, during a large-scale campaign, Sumy Regional Center of Social Services for Families, Children and the Youth has developed and produced information materials that were disseminated at the campaign’s events and in the public transport across the region; we spoke on the radio, and posted information on the Internet and in printed mass media that we are looking for candidate patronage families.
All people who were interested in it and contacted social service centers for families, children and the youth in our region could receive an individual consultation regarding selection criteria for the candidates and the package of documents required to participate in the initial selection. There were also interviews with a psychologist to reveal internal potential or risks related to the role of patronage caregiver or their assistant.
Presently, there are nine families of patronage caregivers in the Sumy Oblast. The first family of a patronage caregiver has appeared in early 2018 in Lebedyn. That patronage caregiver and her assistant underwent training in Kharkiv in 2017, because there was no coach in the Sumy region back then. The same year, having prepared a certified coach, Sumy Regional Center organized a quality, effective training and provided recommendations to eight candidates and their assistants (four in Sumy, one in Velyka Pysarivka, one in Romny, one in Trostianets and one in Hlukhiv) regarding the possibility of implementing the patronage service.
Do we have the first patronage family who has already accepted children? Tell us more about them: who are they, why did they come to you, where did you find them?
T.S.: The first family of a patronage caregiver became operational back in early 2018, and therefore, they already have a year of practice in caring for and raising children who found themselves in difficult life circumstances. The first child to get to a patronage caregiver in Lebedyn was an abandoned newborn. That was quite a test! However, the patronage caregiver was up to the task and took care of the baby until we found an adoptive family for him. In other words, we are talking about a service of temporary caregiving, raising and rehabilitation of children as an important element of reform that has the key purpose of abolishing institutional accommodation of children.
Mentorship is another form of working with orphans. Were you able to implement this service in our city?
T.S.: Mentorship is a new form of free help to orphans and children deprived of parental care, first of all, adolescents. It does not require money, special education or even a lot of time. The main goal of mentorship is to prepare an orphan for independent life by developing the child’s potential and self-confidence, helping set goals in life, establish human relationships, develop cultural, moral and spiritual values. A mentor is a caring adult friend who becomes an important person for a child or an adolescent, a person who can and wants to devote their time, knowledge and efforts to their charge. Mentorship involves a relationship between one adult and one child.
In order to popularize mentorship, Sumy Regional Center of Social Services for Families, Children and the Youth conducts information campaigns, organizes photography exhibitions with participation of famous and important people who have achievements in various areas: sports, science or art, and is prepared to disseminate information about the new form of helping children.
In the Sumy Oblast, there are coaches who underwent special training in social adaptation of children and preparing them for independent life at One Hope NGO under the program of preparing mentors for children living in orphanages and children deprived of parental care.
In 2019, the Center plans to organize a training of candidates for mentors, where the candidates will receive recommendations (conclusions) as regards organization of child mentorship. Presently, the process of selecting candidates for mentors continues, and therefore, everyone who wants to become a mentor may apply to Sumy Regional Center of Social Services for Families, Children and the Youth. Children need not as much material things as a relationship – warm, trusting, strong. They vitally need an individual support from a “personal” adult – Mentor. A person whom they can trust, whom they can confess their worries to or hear advice from, or simply talk to about graduation from school and the choice of future profession. Every one of us can become that person! One doesn’t need a lot of money, special education and even a lot of time to come over to a boarding school, spend time with the child and ask them: “How have you been lately?”
A mentor is a person who is simply not indifferent to a particular child. Anyone of us can spend some time with a child and give them communication, understanding and support. One hour of your time spent with a child in a boarding school can change a little life.
There is a belief that decentralization will give more powers to communities in solving problems of children from troubled families. Is that true?
T.S.: Indeed, the Law of Ukraine on Local Self-Government sets out powers of territorial communities, in particular, as regards social security. It concerns, among other things, delivery of social services to families with children who found themselves in difficult life situations and require outside assistance, and accommodation of children left without parental care.
The law envisages that a community must create, to a certain degree, favorable conditions for development of familial potential and to meet children’s needs. Under favorable conditions, the capacity of families to meet the child’s needs by developing their parental potential must increase thanks to combining positive resources of both the family and the community.
The accessibility of services must be ensured by bringing these services as close as possible to the family’s place of residence. That, in turn, requires every community to have specialists in social work capable of providing the basic complex of social services: identifying and analyzing needs of community members, conducting preventive work, determining and engaging resources, representing recipients of services, performing social oversight.
And most importantly, a specialist in social work must be able to make the community more active, i.e. unite people to exchange experience and solve problems using common resources and skills. It is important to show people concrete results of joint efforts and inspire hope that together we can achieve a lot.
Today, there is a number of problems preventing communities from efficiently dispensing their powers. In particular, this is the absence in certain communities of a department concerned with these matters and specialists in social work. As a rule, this is explained by a tight budget, but that’s nothing new: social matters have always been financed on leftovers. In cases like that, unfortunately, community heads tend to forget that community means people and that the future of a community is the youth, children. So, providing timely support to them and preventing ill-being is the social responsibility of the community head and the community on the whole. And humanitarian assistance alone won’t solve the problem of irresponsible parenthood, and additional material benefits won’t always help establish a familial relationship. We are talking about a comprehensive approach to resolution of a difficult life situation. To make that happen, a specialist in social work must have certain knowledge and skills. When you need medical assistance you go to see a doctor, and when you need a dress you order it from a tailor. But social matters are often handled in our communities by economists, engineers or animal technicians. That’s sad. The professionalism of a specialist, or lack thereof, may have profound effect on the fate of a particular child, a person. We wish that community heads have a more responsible attitude toward the social component of community life.
The situations like that do happen, although not often, regardless of reforms. However, an intervention from the outside is sometimes really necessary to force the community to see a problem and find resources to solve it.
First patronage caregivers
The first four families in Sumy have signed child patronage service contracts.
The families of Anatoly Riabov, Olga Kokovina, Olena Konovalova and Violetta Bershova were first to express the desire to become patronage caregivers.
Interestingly enough, the wives in the first- and second-mentioned families are sisters. Olga Kokovina’s family has an adult son. In her time, the woman received higher education in pedagogy, but had to quit it for objective reasons. When she decided to go back to the work of educating children, she saw a notice about patronage families. Since her own son has already grown up, she and her husband decided to share the warmth of their family with children who found themselves in difficult life circumstances. The woman told her sister about their plan, and the sister and her husband also decided to go for a patronage family.
‘The initiative was mine. We made the decision pretty fast. We really wanted to help little citizens of our country gain self-confidence. We wanted to give warmth to children, like I give it to my grandchildren and the daughter’, Anatoly Riabov said.
All candidates for patronage caregivers underwent special training and received recommendations regarding the readiness to provide child patronage services, and now, they are ready to help children and their families who found themselves in difficult life circumstances.
‘I’d like to thank you for your readiness to do it. Thanks to you, children who found themselves in difficult life circumstances won’t get to a boarding school but will live, even if temporarily, in a family. We’d like to thank you for that, and we are ready to continue supporting and helping you. I mean not only the departments concerned but personally myself, too – the door of my office is always open for you’, city mayor Oleksandr Lysenko said, giving each family a gift that would become handy for patronage caregivers and their charges.
According to the Head of Department for Children’s Affairs Valeria Podopryhora, a patronage caregiver will be paid for the work they do under a contract the sum equal to five times the amount of monthly subsistence minimum for able-bodied persons (9605 hryvnias effective December 2018). A patronage caregiver will also receive a social benefit for every child placed into a family in the amount of two times the monthly subsistence minimum for the children of relevant age (3252 hryvnias for children under six years of age, 4054 hryvnias for children aged between 6 and 18 years).
In turn, specialists of the Department for Children’s Affairs and the city’s Center of Social Services for Families, Children and the Youth are ready to continue providing psychological services and legal assistance to patronage families.
Open Europe project is financed by the European Union. The Institute of Economic Studies and Political Consultations and Evropeiska Pravda provide support to the project’s implementation. Materials for this article were prepared under the project “Promoting Reforms in Regions” with the assistance from the European Union (http://ec.europa.eu/europeaid). The content of publications is the sole responsibility of their authors, and in no way it should be construed as reflecting the viewpoint of the European Union.
Source – Panorama