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