From Orphanages to Families: Sharing New Approaches to Raising Youth

Of Moscow’s nearly 20,000 orphans, over 75% live with relatives, guardians, or foster and adoptive families. The rest are not as lucky. 
“There are 4,200 orphaned and abandoned children living in Moscow’s state institutions,” Alla Zaurovna Dzugaeva, deputy head of the Department of Social Welfare in Moscow, told a group of gathered practitioners. “By 2016, we want to lower the number of children in institutions by 75%,” she challenged the audience. 
Dzugaeva set the tone for a set of two-day training sessions in Moscow in March 2013 organized under the US-Russia Civil Society Partnership Program’s (CSPP) Child Protection Working Group.  Kidsave’s CEO Randi Thompson and Russia Director Tatiana Stafford then led nearly 100 government officials, guardianship managers, orphanage directors, and local NGO representatives in eye-opening sessions to introduce the ideas of child-specific advocacy and family recruitment as a way of moving orphaned youth away from institutions and into families.  
The foundation for the training session was laid at CSPP’s November 2012 conference in Washington, DC. There the Child Protection Working Group developed a project titled “Training in Permanency for Older Youth” to lead to exchanges of skills and strategies among professionals working with older children without parents in Russia and the US.
“Both the US and Russia have similar problems when it comes to finding families for older children in government care [,] many who have suffered abuse, loss, and neglect,” said Thompson, a member of the CSPP Working Group.  Kidsave, which Thompson co-founded in 1993, connects older orphaned children with families and mentors. 
 “We decided to divide the groups into interactive working groups to develop recruitment and advocacy events,” Thompson explained. “[The trainees] became enthusiastic… and came up with innovative and creative techniques to engage the community in the lives of children in care.”
The workshops attracted participants from not only within Moscow, but also from regions such as Udmurtia and Stavropol, and participants shared experiences from their work throughout Russia, the US, and Columbia.  One trainee, Alexander Gezalov, who grew up in orphanages and is now an expert on child abandonment, speaks from first-hand experience as a vocal advocate for governments permanently placing orphans with families rather than in institutions.  
This approach is directly in line with that of Moscow’s Department of Welfare, which is undertaking a major reform of its system in the next three years. “We plan to reorganize children’s institutions into family recruitment and support centers that will focus on prevention of abandonment, family reunification, and recruitment of families using this family visit model and mentoring,” Dzugaeva announced during the opening session. 
The participants learned new strategies and techniques during the workshops, such as how to prepare children and parents prior to the adoption so that the match works, which they have already put to use.  Implementers have been able to share their successes with their American counterparts through online webinars.  
In August, 2013, Stafford joined CSPP’s Child Protection Working Group as Russia Co-Chair, and two more joint events for US and Russian participants are planned. 
The children without families in Moscow represent only 2% of the nearly 200,000 orphans in Russia who are currently growing up in state institutions. With strong interest from those who participated in the trainings in collaborating with CSPP to bring similar workshops to other regions, the concept of placing orphans with families instead of in institutions is gaining traction, so that throughout Russia every child can grow up in a family.