Adopting a new attitude

Russia is moving away from the state system of orphanages and is
looking to place abandoned children in families. Some problems
remain but it is better than the old ways, says Olga Boiko.

The Russian state care for child orphans was changed for the better
during the 1990s as a result of new social policy and importing
good practice from abroad. In countries with developed social
welfare, social workers are more active in depriving people of
their parental rights, but in Russia it is parents themselves who
abandon their children.

When asked why Russia has more orphanages than any other country,
the head of the department of social protection of childhood at the
Russian Ministry of Education responded: “The main reason is that
parents leave their children because they fail to feed and dress

It is important to point out that most Russians do not know that
orphanages are not institutionally acceptable for solving the
problem of abandoned children in many countries.

The state has indicated its intention to aid a shift from placing
abandoned children in orphanages to family-based adoption. In 1991,
for example, little more than 10,000 out of 59,000 “orphans” were
being brought up in state institutions each year, with the rest
moving in with families.

It became possible by a new law to adopt a disabled child. The
adopter may also be a single parent. A disabled person may take
care of children – but only those with the same disabilities.
However, the biological mother has almost no chance of taking her
child back, and it is felt that babies may well be ill-suited to a
new family.

The social institution of children’s protection considers it a
priority that an adopted child finds better conditions in the new
family than in a boarding school. However, there are no regulations
to promote or regulate the real maintenance of children’s

The situation changed further towards the end of the 1990s, with
the arrival of fostering.

Alternatives to orphanages and adoption existed earlier, such as
family orphanages or children’s villages. But foster care was not
generally perceived as a professional option.

A children’s village near Moscow is based on the finance and
philosophy of Austrian foundation “SOS – Kinderdorf International”.
The “mother” (an unmarried woman, who is deemed mentally and
physically healthy) and seven to eight children of various ages
live together in every house there.

To what extent is this foreign experience accepted by

The director of the children’s village says: “Foreign sponsors are
surprised by the easiness with which Russian citizens give money to
children-beggars in the subway knowing that the money will be taken
away by their parents, where as they [the Russian citizens] do not
want to give up 30 roubles a month [the sum of charitable
contribution] for the children’s village”.

The director hinted that some problems remain for the children in
the village when he suggested: “Better an occasionally drunk but
native mother than a kind one employed by the state.”

Olga Boiko is a senior lecturer in the department of social
anthropology and social work at Saratov state technical university,


Russia (Rossiya), the largest country in the world in terms of
area, covers more than 17m sq km – about 70 times the size of the
UK – and has a population of 146m. Ethnic groups: Russian 81.5%;
Tatar 3.8%; Ukrainian 3%; Bashkir 0.9%; Byelorussian 0.8%;
Moldavian 0.7%; other 8.1%.

Saratov is a city with a population of about 1m and is capital of
the Saratovskaya oblast (region). It is 1,000 km south east of
Moscow in the European part of Russia on the River Volga.

The network of social services in Saratov includes more than 130
agencies. There are 42 community centres of social services in the
regional towns and districts of Saratov (compared with just 20 in
1993). The total number of social services employees in such
centres is about 6,200 – including almost 5,000 social workers and
specialists in social care.

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