When will the Baltic dream of or­phan­age de­in­sti­tu­tion­al­i­sa­tion be­come a re­al­ity?

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - Doire­ann Mc Der­mott

The Lat­vian and Lithua­nian Gov­ern­ments’ dream of erad­i­cat­ing all or­phan­ages in these coun­tries turns out to be a slow process amid the on­go­ing ef­forts to im­ple­ment a de-in­sti­tu­tion­al­i­sa­tion project. It aims to re­place or­phan­ages with suit­able al­ter­na­tive ser­vices fo­cused on chil­dren’s needs and giv­ing more sup­port to foster fam­i­lies, guardians and adop­tive par­ents.

Vil­nius seeks to de­crease chil­dren’s shel­ter num­ber

The Lithua­nian cap­i­tal, Vil­nius, plans to dra­mat­i­cally re­duce the amount of chil­dren liv­ing in in­sti­tu­tions by 2020, but there are still cur­rently 98 or­phan­ages in the coun­try and 3,073 chil­dren live in foster homes. Amid the ef­forts, a de­cline in the num­ber of adop­tions is ob­served though. 310 Lithua­nian chil­dren were adopted in 2009, com­pared with 179 last year, and only 67 chil­dren moved to adopted fam­i­lies abroad in com­par­i­son to 146 in 2009. Most of the re­main­ing or­phan­ages in Es­to­nia are lo­cated in the East. There are 36 res­i­den­tial in­sti­tu­tions with 1,056 chil­dren liv­ing in these in­sti­tu­tions (2014 statis­tics). The chil­dren’s shel­ter ser­vice in Es­to­nia is or­gan­ised by the lo­cal gov­ern­ments. Some mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have the chil­dren’s shel­ters pro­vide the ser­vice, while in other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, es­pe­cially in the smaller ones, the shel­ter ser­vice is pro­vided by the res­i­den­tial in­sti­tu­tion in the area.

Some shock­ing rev­e­la­tion in Latvia

Over 1,000 chil­dren still live in or­phan­ages in Latvia. There are 34 or­phan­ages that pro­vide so­cial care and so­cial re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ser­vices for all the other chil­dren left with­out parental care, and those are paid by lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. There are 3 state so­cial care cen­tres with 6 branches for or­phans and chil­dren left with­out parental care till the age of 2, chil­dren with men­tal or phys­i­cal dis­or­ders till the age of 4, and dis­abled chil­dren with se­vere men­tal and phys­i­cal dis­or­ders till the age of 18. As of the 1st of Jan­uary 2017, there were 416 chil­dren. There are 7 cri­sis cen­tres for chil­dren who have suf­fered from abuse, the state funds the so­cial re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­vided in these cen­tres through the NGO "Latvi­jas Bernu fonds" - "Lat­vian Chil­dren’s Fund”. Jel­geva's City Or­phan­age re­cently made head­lines and caused pub­lic out­rage af­ter it was re­vealed that 3 out of 44 em­ploy­ees were sus­pended this year, due to an in­ves­ti­ga­tion over al­le­ga­tions of abuse.

Ac­cord­ing to the Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing of Latvia, a team was sent to con­duct an as­sess­ment as part of the gov­ern­ment’s de­in­sti­tu­tion­al­i­sa­tion plans, and some of them were shocked by what they were told by some of the chil­dren liv­ing there. The Wel­fare Min­is­ter re­acted to this by stat­ing he be­lieves it is not a “sys­temic sit­u­a­tion” and that the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are mainly

re­spon­si­ble for their own in­sti­tu­tions.

In the midst of chil­dren’s care de­in­sti­tu­tion­al­i­sa­tion

Anda Avena from Cen­trs Dard­edze shared her views with The Baltic Times on Latvia’s de­in­sti­tu­tion­al­i­sa­tion process. She said “we don't see putting chil­dren in sta­tion­ary cri­sis cen­ters or or­phan­ages as the best method to re­ally help a child - what chil­dren need most is a safe fam­ily en­vi­ron­ment.

For­tu­nately, Latvia is now ac­tively go­ing through a de­in­sti­tu­tion­al­i­sa­tion process - which hope­fully will help to change the cur­rent sys­tem in favour of fam­i­lies who adopt or pro­vide foster care.

Cen­trs Dard­edze was a cri­sis cen­tre un­til 2008, she says, but it now fo­cuses on pre­vent­ing vi­o­lence against chil­dren. The cen­tre pro­vides a num­ber of ser­vices, in­clud­ing psy­chol­o­gist con­sul­ta­tions to chil­dren who have suf­fered from abuse, ed­u­ca­tional ser­vices to chil­dren and adults about per­sonal safety in re­la­tion­ships, and pub­lic aware­ness cam­paigns etc.

Avena added “we be­lieve in fo­cus­ing on the causes, the early signs of prob­lems, rais­ing aware­ness, ed­u­cat­ing, ac­tively sup­port­ing fam­i­lies and spe­cial­ists, so that there would be less "chil­dren of the sys­tem" after­wards.”

Is there enough gov­ern­ment fund­ing?

Laura Bul­mane, a Vol­un­teer Co­or­di­na­tor at the Samar­i­tan As­so­ci­a­tion of Latvia in Riga dis­cussed the chal­lenges fac­ing fund­ing. The lo­cal gov­ern­ment pro­vides sup­port for the care of the chil­dren, but Bul­mane told The Baltic Times that “the big­gest prob­lem is that there is no fund­ing pro­vided for the cen­ter it­self, for ex­am­ple: re­pairs, up­keep, and ren­o­va­tion.”

This is where do­na­tion plays an im­por­tant role, ac­cord­ing to her. The cri­sis cen­tre it­self is very well kept, with bright pink walls and nice dec­o­ra­tions, so it is clear that the money do­nated helps main­tain the sur­round­ings and keeps the in­te­rior look­ing cheer­ful and com­fort­able. Bul­mane also spoke about the dif­fi­culty fac­ing un­der­paid and over­worked em­ploy­ees, due to the lack of sup­port from the state, stat­ing “the work­load and re­spon­si­bil­ity is very large but, the mon­e­tary com­pen­sa­tion is small.” Bul­mane be­lieves the root of the cur­rent prob­lem in Latvia with so­cial ser­vices is found in the lack of work with fam­i­lies. She calls on so­cial ser­vices to be­come more ac­tively in­volved in terms of help­ing fam­i­lies and en­cour­ag­ing them to find work. She be­lieves it is im­per­a­tive that they gain ba­sic so­cial skills and un­der­stand­ing so their fam­i­lies do not end up on the streets. Bul­mane said “it is not un­com­mon that weak ba­sic skills lead them into bad habits such as al­co­hol abuse or use of toxic sub­stances, this be­hav­iour can be seen or even passed on to the next gen­er­a­tion, and re­peats again, like a vi­cious cir­cle.”

Vol­un­teers play a huge role

Bul­mane praised the vol­un­teers who play a huge role by or­gan­is­ing fundrais­ing events and vis­it­ing the chil­dren at the cen­tres. She said “in terms of do­na­tion, I have to ad­mit that in gen­eral, the pub­lic is very open and help­ful when it comes to help­ing chil­dren, or its up­keep, or well be­ing.” In­ter­na­tional groups and com­mu­ni­ties in Riga, in­clud­ing Riga United Foot­ball Club and the In­ter­na­tional Women’s Club do­nate their time to vis­it­ing these cri­sis cen­tres and or­gan­is­ing fundrais­ing events. The In­ter­na­tional Women’s Club or­gan­ised a trip in May to the Auce Cri­sis Cen­tre for Chil­dren “Namins”. It has been sup­port­ing the cen­ter for many years now, do­nat­ing money for food, shoes, school sup­plies and more. The cen­tre helps chil­dren with com­pli­cated fam­ily back­grounds. Chil­dren go to the cen­ter ev­ery af­ter­noon for hot meals, they get help with home­work and par­tic­i­pate in af­ter school ac­tiv­i­ties. In Lithua­nia, stu­dents from the in­ter­na­tional so­ci­ety at LSMU (Lithua­nia Uni­ver­sity of Health Sciences) or­gan­ise var­i­ous events through­out the year for two dif­fer­ent or­phan­ages and sur­prise them with gifts around Christ­mas time. Den­tistry stu­dent Jinita Udani, who vis­ited Lopselis, a chil­dren’s re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion hos­pi­tal, on a few oc­ca­sions shared some of her in­sights with The Baltic

Times, stat­ing “in my opin­ion, the main­te­nance of the place is very good, all the rooms and fa­cil­i­ties are al­ways in very good con­di­tion, but of course there should be more space for so many kids.”

She re­marked that the fa­cil­ity was slightly crowded the gov­ern­ment can’t pro­vide a big­ger house, so they can’t ac­cept more kids.

“The staff is fan­tas­tic, though - very hard work­ing women, but to no sur­prise, they are un­der­staffed. A lot of the chil­dren also have men­tal dis­or­ders, so it’s very dif­fi­cult for the or­phan­age to find staff who are pro­fes­sion­ally trained to help the chil­dren in the cor­rect way. The chil­dren, to my knowl­edge from the trips, are treated and cared for very well, but the sit­u­a­tion is very heart­break­ing, be­cause from sto­ries that I’ve heard, ap­par­ently most of the kids in fact have par­ents, but they were left in the or­phan­age be­cause the par­ents were fi­nan­cially un­able to take care of them,” she ob­served.

“The Lithua­nian cap­i­tal, Vil­nius, plans to dra­mat­i­cally re­duce the amount of chil­dren liv­ing in in­sti­tu­tions by 2020, but there are still cur­rently 98 or­phan­ages in the coun­try and 3,073 chil­dren live in foster homes. Amid the ef­forts, a de­cline in the num­ber of adop­tions is ob­served though.”

In Lithua­nia, 3,073 chil­dren live in foster homes, in Latvia - slightly over 1,000.

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