Saturday, February 10, 2007

Baby Scandal

Someone asked me to comment on the scandal in the baby hospital that was uncovered recently in Yekaterinburg, Russia. The basic story is: someone witnessed a roomful of babies lying in a hospital with their mouths taped shut to keep them quiet.

My reaction? I’m not shocked. I’m dismayed and saddened, but there’s nothing surprising to me about the situation. 1-2 overworked and under equipped adults+dozens of screaming babies leads to desperate measures. What would you do?

This particular article made reference to the nurses having a medical degree but lacking knowledge about how to cope with the babies’ emotional/psychological needs. Honestly, I don’t think you need a degree in psychology to care for babies. Otherwise, a lot of mothers out there are in trouble! It’s a BABY. You pick it up, hold it, love it.

Why are these babies abandoned in hospitals for their first year of life, and what can be done about it?

According to the article, “the main reasons why mothers give up their babies are lack of money and living-space along with problems such as alcoholism.” Fair enough.

What is to be done? A solution suggested by the article: Open more orphanages. " 'We simply do not have enough children's homes in Sverdlovsk [the region around Yekaterinburg] and Russia in general.’ " Not ENOUGH orphanages????!!!

I’m tired of orphanages. I spend a lot of time there. I’ve seen a range of living conditions. In some of the best St.P. orphanages, the kids win prizes in regional competitions in sports, arts, etc. They study in public schools with other children and may even go on to get a higher education. Photographs and artwork of the children are hanging everywhere. Graduates sometimes hang around, or return to show off their diplomas and their own kids. The counselors proudly welcome guests and show how they, on their meager salaries, have made the rooms look beautiful.

It’s not the orphanage that is the problem per se, but rather the fate of those who leave it. According to the Russian Orphan Opportunity Fund (ROOF), “Each year in the Russian Federation approximately 15,000 young adults 'graduate' from the orphanage system utterly unprepared to support or to take care of themselves in a country where, at present, it is difficult for even the most privileged to find gainful employment.”

So how do we stop the vicious cycle in which more and more children are orphaned and end up unable to achieve successful independence?

Upscale orphanages (or “children’s homes”) are not the answer.

Foreign adoption is also not the answer. But it should not be prevented. I encourage foreign adoption because it is a way to affect the life of an individual child, and it is a way to raise awareness. But it will not save the children. And it will not save Russia, with its declining birth rate.

Charity work is not the answer either. But it should not be prevented. The Bible encourages us to visit orphans. If those hospital workers had a few helpers who held the babies, would taping their mouths be necessary?

Abortion and birth control are not the answer. Preventing “unwanted pregnancies” doesn’t guarantee that children will not be abandoned later on.

The best answer is a family. Adoption whenever possible; anchor families for when adoption isn’t possible or a child is too old; halfway houses or transitional homes for orphanage graduates.

Another answer is repentance. Most of these children are neglected not due to death or tragedy, but because of someone else’s sin. Having sexual relations outside of marriage is a sin. Not performing your work to the best of your ability is a sin. Drinking alcohol to excess and otherwise engaging in self-indulgence is a sin. Oppressing people and not paying them a suitable salary is a sin. Being irresponsible with your finances is a sin. Ignoring your own needy neighbors is a sin. Not taking care of children, who are an inheritance from the Lord, is a sin. All of us are guilty of one or more of these. And all of us will be held accountable.

What do you think?


  1. Here in America it can be complicated and expensive to adopt a child. What would a Russian family have to go through to adopt a child over there?

  2. Hmmmm, good question from "Anonymous." Part of the problem is that no one knows exactly because not a lot of people have experience and the regulations change fairly often. It's a similar process with background checks, a home study, appearing in court, etc. Also a lot depends on whether or not you have connections, and whether or not certain officials approve of you...

    I'll write a longer post about it sometime.

  3. I guess (more of the same idea) big problems with so many causes (the basic one being Original Sin) need many different responses. Repentence is important, but must be individual and interior.

    Just a little observation from my adoption experiences.... In the orphanages with the younger children, the children seem to be quite emotionally and psychologically balanced. The little ones who enter the orphanage when young, flourish in the orderly, caring environment of the Children's home. Of course they need to be cherished and have a family, but they seem healthy in most ways. But the longer they stay there, and the older they get, the more children come into the setting who were neglected, abused and scarred by their time in their dysfunctional homes...and as a result the Children's homes begin to become less wholesome, less safe, less happy. I do not know what can be done about that - but my children who were in orphanages with lots of older children were abused by some of them.... Some children seem to be "good", good students, kind-hearted - but they must live among these "damaged" children. I also wonder if anyone has looked at how well children do who went through the entire orphanage system from a young age, versus those who came in later after formative years spent in a bad home environment.

    We have the same problems here in the States, of course! But my tendency is to think that a good orphange, with loving consistent caregivers (and my children's caregivers were that!) is far better than a neglectful, abusive home. In our State, at least, there is a huge thrust to keep kids in their homes (entirely for cost reasons - but "spun" to seem to be for other more altruistic reasons). Problem is that no number of parenting classes can make good parents out of most of these people. It is like putting a band-aid on a broken leg and expecting it to heal. EVEN if you can conquor the drug and alcohol issues, EVEN if you can get people a job - you can't usually give them the skills to create a solid, happy marriage, or to become thoughtful, self-disciplined parents. My gosh! with a wonderful family backgound myself, with the beneifits of faith and education, I STILL find marriage and parenting to be the most difficult things I've ever done!

  4. It's an interesting the "good" kids become damaged because of the institution itself or because of the "damaged" kids who live there? I think both play a role. Also, a child living in an orphanage at some point has to come to terms with the trauma of losing his/her birth family. Even if the orphanage life is stable, the pain of separation is always there and will in some way affect the child's emotions.

    I'm reading a book (actually I have been for about a year) about the reasoning behind the U.S. foster care system. I like the fact that there is a goal to reunite birth families. But you are probably right that the wrong decision often gets made. In general I think the relationship with the birth families should be preserved, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the child should live there. But then you get the situation that is in Russia with children living in orphanages while their perfectly healthy parents live at home and come to visit once in a while. And money plays a role here too, so who's to say if government officials or potential foster families will have the right motivation?


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