Helping orphans with living parents

What social orphanhood is, how to prevent it from becoming de facto, and why problem families do not turn to the state for help

Helping orphans with living parents

A social orphan is a child living in a family in a crisis situation. The conditions in it are often close to critical, and then the social authorities have the right (and even obliged) to remove the child from the family. The prevention of social orphanhood is just designed to prevent this — its task is to preserve the family, establish harmonious relations in it, and make the child's environment safe and favourable. But desire alone is not enough for this. A long and comprehensive work is needed. And every family is a special case.

Alexander Golovatenko, the head of the programme for the prevention of social orphanhood and strengthening the family 'SOS Children's Villages' in Tatarstan, told about the problem of social orphanhood, ways to solve it, and difficulties in this way in the author's column for Realnoe Vremya.

Covid-19 has exacerbated the problem of social orphanhood

The problem of social orphanhood is gaining momentum. The reasons are many circumstances, but if we take the “recent” ones — of course, this is the pandemic. Children and parents co-existed for a long time in a closed space. They had to rebuild the rhythm of life — as in the whole society. Many parents lost their jobs. Many families found themselves mired in domestic conflicts — because sometimes it is difficult to spend 24 hours a day together in a closed territory. The number of cases of domestic violence has increased. The children who were around long enough together with their parents received psychological injuries no less serious than adults.

The most difficult cases in social orphanhood are neglected cases when children are forced to come to the attention of law enforcement agencies, guardianship authorities, and doctors. We have to work with this, and it is a difficult path, because, as a rule, it is difficult to bring such children out of trauma. And the biggest obstacle in this is if the parents do not want to get involved in the process, and this is not so rare.


Two different notebooks

How to work with such cases? Each situation is individual. But every story requires adults to look at the child, at the teenager, carefully and openly. Here is the story of a girl, let's call her Alina. In a technical school, she encountered bullying (and this, in my experience, is one of the most frequent cases). She has no parents, her aunt was her guardian. Alina withdrew into her shell and was constantly in a stressful situation. She loved to draw and poured out all the negativity into her drawings. It was a puberty period, and she was living with suicidal thoughts: “life is useless”, “I am a monster”. She brought the psychologist her workbook, in which there were drawings — “horror stories”.

We started talking to her, and I asked her if she would like to be our volunteer. The offer is unusual for a teenager, because they are used to living in an environment where older people try to heal them, to direct them to some idea. And this “healing” is also a support, but it still represents some kind of analysis of you, a preassure. And it is very unexpected when you are not taught and not required anything. They just say: “Do you want to draw on our walls, show a master class to the guys, organise an exhibition? Maybe you can also learn to sculpt something interesting from welding, which will help you realise yourself as a person, as an artist?"...

I saw a sparkle in her eyes. She smiled at first, then looked at me so provocatively — probably thinking that I was up to something. I didn't push it, I just said: “Think about it, it's cool, but can you draw cool things besides these scary things?". The complex work yielded results, and after a while the girl brought another notebook. It was no longer horror stories, but normal drawings of completely different colours, with a different message. Now we can say with confidence that the girl has not only found herself as an individual — she joined the team at the technical school, she has been accepted. We worked with those guys as well. It turned out that the team did not initially reject her, they just lived in the flow of life two steps ahead, and the lagging person hidden in her shell caused them perplexity. They couldn't figure it out.


Crisis can also be in healthy families

Here is another case — a healthy family with two children of the same age. The older boy at home behaved normally, but when he came to school, he showed aggression — he swore with teachers, fought with classmates. In the parent chats, they wrote: transfer him to another school. He was only 9 years old, and he was already on notice of the commission on juvenile affairs. And here the big plus was that the parents wanted to help — they just didn't know how. It wasn't the class, it was the home environment. And this could confuse an inexperienced teacher: after all, there was enough of everything at home, parents spent a lot of time with their children.

It turned out that the boy “started” with his younger brother. He tried, like his father, to be tough, rude, and he moved this model to the class — where he could do it, show dominance there. We prescribed a regime for the family, worked with parents and held family consultations, watched how the four of them interact, and gave recommendations to children and adults. We worked with both the school psychologist and the class teacher.

The boy was recommended to be seen by narrow-profile specialists, who, when diagnosed, saw that he demonstrates aggressiveness that is not characteristic of children at his age. He was restless, he had too much energy, although he was engaged in sports. The child was prescribed treatment that restrains his aggressiveness (vitamins, herbal soothing medications).

The complex work during the year yielded results. The boys at school behave themselves well, the parents' committee calmed down.

Here the most important thing is that we helped parents understand their parental competencies. It's just that often the decisions they made as a punishment — to ban the phone, turn off the Internet — caused even more aggression. At home, the children behaved normally, but “caught up” in another place. Sometimes we saw that these parents themselves behaved like children. When we discussed this with them, the father himself said: “Actually, sometimes I act like a kid.”


Why do NGOs vitally need the support of authorities?

Any NGO like ours is in great need of support. And not only in the financial sphere. I see a great benefit in the interaction of non-profit organisations with the authorities. The state is doing a lot of work in the field of eliminating social orphanhood, but this may not be enough due to the lack of resources that would allow solving the problem comprehensively.

The difficulty is that parents often do not want to contact government agencies — they are afraid of fines, custody, and the like, but they agree to work with NGOs.

But it also happens that for antisocial families, an NGO becomes just a tool for siphoning off money: “Pay off our debt of 64,000 for the apartment, and we will be fine.” But it will not...

In my memory, there was a case when the debt for an apartment was 30,000 rubles, for a kindergarten — about 7,000. Small children had not attended kindergarten for six months because of the debt. Our organisation appealed to the kindergarten, the management went to meet them and accepted the children to groups. The state agency was even ready to cancel this debt. But the parents continued to lead an immoral lifestyle, ignoring us, the kindergarten, and the administration, and the children still stayed at home — in rather deplorable conditions...

In most cases, when the situation worsens, we go to the end and try to pull the family out. But sometimes we can't help. And then the parents are still deprived of their parental rights — orphanhood becomes not just social, but also actual. However, in any case, interaction with official bodies and state agencies helps to remove many problems.

An example of such cooperation is the inclusion of drinking parents in rehabilitation programmes. There is, for example, a state programme supported by the president of the republic — Sobriety Point. In difficult cases, without the interaction of NGOs and the authorities, it is difficult to achieve significant results. According to federal laws, an NGO has the right to work with the family only upon application of parents. If there is an agreement with a school, it is possible to conduct general work, for example, with the class.

But what if parents don't agree? Then it is possible to act only through the official authorities. But we see the disadvantage of the work of state agencies in that they often react too slowly. If, for example, there is violence in a family, it is impossible to wait long in any case. But the state has no right to interfere in private life. These mechanisms, on the one hand, are correct, but on the other hand, they contradict the laws of personal security in the family. And if they are carefully refined, many issues can be resolved much faster.

Another significant drawback: children who have reached the age of majority are given less attention to support — especially by the state. As soon as they reach 18 — “you have become an adult, go right ahead, and goodbye! " But the prevention of orphanhood also involves working with children under 18 years of age. The only loophole is that if there is a minor child in the family, and the NGO has started working with him, it has the right to continue to help him even after he reaches the age of majority.


Where to get money and how to deal with scammers

The work of the programme for the prevention of social orphanhood in the republic was initiated by IKEA. Other key partners include ŠKODA, Gazprombank, and P&G. Nevertheless, the basis of our activity is private donations. The donator can subscribe or make a one-time donation.

We have a team of fundraisers who have a connection with each donator. Everyone can apply directly to our programme — come to the office, get acquainted with the programme, work, and specialists. He can communicate with those whom we help (if, for example, he comes to the office during a consultation). That is, our donators see every ruble put to use. No one collects any cash. The employees have legal salaries. All this indicates the transparency of the organisation.

But, unfortunately, there are cases when outsiders raise funds under the guise of a well-known charity brand. In such cases, we respond, go to the place, check. Our programme has an agreement with the government, and the fundraisers' work is carried out with a written notification addressed to the prime minister. So it can always be traced. If a person is interested in information, they can visit the site, pages in social networks, contact the heads of teams and projects. Our team of fundraisers even created several videos that tell you how to recognise scammers and false fundraisers.


It is important to remember that collection on personal cards is prohibited by law. If someone in social networks gives their card number, then there is a high risk of running into fraud!

A misunderstanding can occur in any organisation. It is important how they approach its solution. For example, we were contacted in cases where funds were debited from a person's account. This is technically impossible without the consent of the client, but it may be, for example, that he unknowingly made regular donations instead of a one-time. And we solve such situations: if a person donated by mistake, then we return the money.

By Margarita Golovatenko
Events Tatarstan