And, in a country where someone can always be blamed, prosecutors here in the Pskov region, along the border with Estonia, have opened an investigation into employees of the local child-custody agency. Criminal charges, possibly trumped up, could result, but they won’t get at the heart of what really ails Russia’s Soviet-legacy child-welfare system, critics say.
“The system does not work,” said Yulia Yudina, who runs the Moscow-based adoption-advocacy group Change One Life. Looking for scapegoats in Pechory will ruin innocent people’s lives and won’t solve the problem, she said. “It’s doubly disgusting.”
Russia has 600,000 “orphans,” although 70 to 90 percent of them have birth parents who are alive. This is Russia’s third great wave of orphans, the first two coming on the heels of the two world wars.
A number of factors are at work, but central to all of them is the lack of assistance to families under stress. Russia traditionally has one approach when dealing with disabled children and children of parents who cannot cope: The state takes custody.
A majority of orphans end up with relatives, but the orphanages also are full. Children’s advocates stress two points: The country must do much more to try to keep children with their families, and when that fails, it should concentrate on promoting adoption and foster care for toddlers and older children.
“But the system doesn’t want to be transformed,” said Boris Altshuler, a longtime advocate for dissidents and children. “It doesn’t want to let children out. The people who run it are protecting a system that destroys Russian families.”
Many orphans are disabled
Children in Russian orphanages are almost certain to have at least one disability. The disabilities can be congenital or related to alcohol consumption by the mother during pregnancy — or they have arisen because of the loss of emotional contact that comes with life in a state orphanage.
Every month in an institutional setting has a physical impact on the brain, said Chuck Johnson, head of the National Council for Adoption, in an interview in Alexandria. “Every child will come with some developmental delays.”
Adoptive parents, he said, need to know they can get help after the adoption, because they will need it. In Russia, there is scarcely any assistance. As many as 10,000 Russian orphans are returned to orphanages every year by frustrated adoptive parents, according to Lev Shlosberg, an opposition politician in the city of Pskov, the regional center.