Part four-2006/2007. Research.
This is part of a continuing series about one of our projects working with orphans.
Now that we had some basic plans, we spent time gathering information about different formats for ministry. We searched for other Christian programs with similar goals. We didn’t find many locally who had an approach that was similar to ours.
In late 2006, we traveled to Vladimir, Russia for a conference. There we met other Christians serving orphans in Russia and Easter Europe, who are involved with foster care programs or transitional work for graduates. It was very helpful to learn about different programs that are already active. We heard from several sources that foster and adoptive families are very isolated in society, and that this is one of the biggest obstacles to more orphans being placed in local families.
I would like to clarify a little bit about terminology. To Americans, the word “adoption” is related to permanence, whereas “foster care” implies instability. American children removed from their parents are usually placed in a family while waiting for the next decision to be made. In Russia, kids go to the orphanage when there is trouble in the family or custody issues. Sometimes this is temporary, sometimes long-term. The orphanage group is akin to a foster family. Children get transferred between different orphanages and between different groups.
In the U.S., foster care can hold negative associations because the foster child is lacking the emotional and legal stability that comes from taking the final step in being adopted. There are also cases of abuse linked to the foster care system. But part of the reason adoption can be delayed is that there is a goal to reconcile family members when possible. Therefore there’s no rush to find an adoptive family.
In Russia, however, "adoption" is the word that has a negative reputation. This is because adoption means the end of government support. Adoptive families receive less subsidies than foster families, and no longer receive visits from social workers. They are on their own. In the U.S. we don’t like to have people checking up on us and interfering with our family life. We want to free the child from the institution and anything connected with it. But in Russia there are not a lot of social support programs in place for adoptive families, so the state is the only source of support, and to lose that is to become isolated.
Because of the bureaucracy and negative feelings associated with “adoption” as a legal process, we have been exploring other options. Helping a child find permanency has always been and will continue to be our goal. But we realize that permanency and adoption can be established in ways other than the American nuclear family. Some potential families and children are simply not able to pursue adoption. Maybe the family doesn’t have room for another bed, or the child has a birth relative who won’t relinquish rights. Does this mean we should stop there?
In the orphanage, a child may be better off in some ways than with his birth family in its damaged state. He will be well-fed and clothed; he will receive plenty of attention and help with schoolwork; he will be taught creative arts. But upon graduation, that all disappears and he is plunged into isolation. How can we ensure that he will have a home to go to when he is in need? An “anchor family” is one solution. Can an anchor family provide permanence? It depends partly on the level of commitment of the participants. If we had a commitment ceremony or something similar, it would be one way for the child to feel secure, even if on paper the arrangement is a foster family and not adoption. Then the family would continue to receive government support, but both the family and the child would agree to the terms of the relationship and would know what to expect from each other.