Two articles in The Post this month ["The Way to Save Russia's Orphans," op-ed, Aug. 4; and "Gulags for the Children," front page, Aug. 16] make a strong case for the need to close Russia's orphanages forever because they are not only costly but harmful.
The Russian orphans are suffering, but it is important to remember that they are not alone. Our research shows that there are approximately 820,000 poor, vulnerable or disabled children in the 27 countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union who live in approximately 5,500 large, regimented residential institutions. The result of this experience is stunted physical, emotional and intellectual development.
Change requires new approaches, and donors have to switch their focus toward these new programs.
In Lithuania, a social protection pilot project financed by the World Bank, the Lithuanian government and the Dutch and Swedish governments is showing that it is no more expensive to serve disabled children in an enriched day school program (including education, two meals per day, job training and a van to pick up the children and return them home at night) than to have the same kids placed in orphanages.
The Lithuanian project is proving how community-based social services can become a credible alternative to the orphanages in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The project shows that it is possible to change the riveting images of the hungry and neglected children into happy and optimistic messages of good lives and a future to look forward to. In the World Bank we believe this project is a model for the future, an answer to the immense social challenges these countries are facing.
There are, of course, many barriers that need to be overcome. While the approaches we have tested are successfully reducing inflow into orphanages, other steps are also needed. First, public opinion toward the disabled and toward residential institutions needs to be changed, and policies to protect the vulnerable need to be put in place. Staff need to be trained in new methods focusing on the family. When the pilot projects have been assessed and redesigned, programs can be implemented nationwide.
This approach is working in Lithuania, where the project has turned into almost a national movement. The children in Russia and the rest of Eastern Europe deserve the same chance. The World Bank is working with UNICEF and other partners to make it happen. We hope other donors will join us.
The writers are, respectively, lead specialist-principal economist and a consultant at the World Bank.