Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Back story

One thing that was helpful when visiting the orphanage was how the counselors would take me aside and tell me about the kids.

In the beginning, the counselor of the group I visited most often would always offer me a cup of tea. I was new to Russia, and didn't really understand the tea ritual. But I appreciated the hospitality. The only thing was that we were both rather shy. I remember telling her about wanting to give Bible lessons, and her saying that the orphanage was Orthodox and the religious education was taken care of. We would each take a sip of tea and swallow and look around the room, thinking of what to say next.

Then, even when I started visiting other groups, she would always chase me down and invite me to her group for a cup of tea. We’re both still shy, but now we’re friends on a social networking site and “like” each other’s photos, ha! :)

Another counselor to befriend me didn’t realize I was American and thought it was annoying or something that I was always wandering around forlornly trying to find kids who needed English practice. Once I was identified as a native speaker, I got VIP treatment! Hey, it opens doors, even if it isn’t always a compliment. This counselor was a very energetic type and ended up taking me under her wing. From then on she would always march the kids right to me for English, and get them properly motivated. In addition to cups of tea I soon got a full lunch, and even dinner! I’m not sure how they arranged it, as the food is rationed, but someone was looking out for me. Even though I tried to eat at home before leaving, it might be 7-8 hours before I ate again.

Anyway, while sipping tea, the counselors would tell me about various kids in their groups. I learned about why some of them had ended up in the orphanage and how they were doing in school, which ones were hoping to get adopted, etc. It really helped confirm other information I'd encountered about life in the orphanage. Except these were real-life examples.

In the present

My counselor friend Galina visited me the other day. I haven’t been to the orphanage all year, but I have been keeping in touch, especially with regards to the traffic accident.

Catching up with Galina and hearing the orphanage news reiterated what I've known about the orphans' needs for the past several years. In some ways, the situation is even worse.

  • it's mainly younger kids who are adopted. Older kids have often been adopted by foreigners in the past, especially Americans...
  • ....but there is currently a ban on adoption by Americans.
  • domestic adoption/foster care isn't very common, nor is there much support for it in Russian society.
  • kids put in foster care/adopted domestically often end up back at the orphanage.
  • orphans tend to be on more of a tech school/drop-out track, and it's hard to reverse that and help them become interested in continuing their education.
  • orphans who leave the orphanage get into various kinds of trouble, and girls who get pregnant sign away their parental rights upon giving birth, or give up after a few years and bring their children to the orphanage.
  • "social" orphans whose parents are still alive don't get the same benefits from the state as those without parents, including a regular allowance for clothes, etc.

Please understand that these are generalizations, BUT they are general trends of which I have seen living proof.

Here is some more insight that Galina provided: kids who end up in the orphanage in their teens may be behind in school, but many have developed some delinquency in the meantime. It's hard for them to adjust to the orphanage schedule and go to school with other kids when they're used to partying or whatever. They're street-smart but a few years behind in terms of school. And it's hard for the counselors to motivate them.


  1. Wow, this is all new information to me...I knew the orphan care system in Russia is not very good but I didn't know to this heartbreaking. Why the ban on American adoption? Is Canada included in this ban?

    1. The orphan situation in Russia is complex and I have a lot of posts under the label "orphans." Basically, no matter how adequate or inadequate an orphanage, it doesn't replace growing up in a family with a mom and dad or provide all the healing that needs to take place. And even a good orphanage experience doesn't prepare a young teen for the real world.

      The ban on American adoptions is a political issue that we're hoping won't be long-lasting. Canadians can currently adopt. I have a single friend here (missionary from Canada) who would like to adopt a few kids.

  2. That last comment is one I've thought about quite a bit. It makes sense, then, that the younger children's orphanages are often (at least in Ivanovo) very "sweet" and peaceful. The orphanages with the older children, MUCH less so.... I also have noted that the "nicest" most "well-balanced" children seem to be those who were in the orphanage from babyhood - the more time spent "at home" with dysfunctional, perhaps abusive and neglectful parents - the more emotionally troubled the children end up.

    Frankly, I tend to disagree with Stephanie - it certainly seems to me that the orphan care system in Russia was (at least when they allowed international adoption) vastly better than that in the US. Adopting a US orphan is MUCH harder if there are any parents alive because the system will keep trying to put the kids back in the home where they experienced neglect and abuse. Or, move them from foster home to foster home, apparently with the intention that they will never bond with anyone. It is a crazed system.

    My children still remember fondly their orphanage days; they felt a sense of belonging and of being cared for. I'm so grateful to all their caregivers.

    1. I know very little about the "baby homes," and I imagine that it would be hard to survey young children about it. Maybe it is easier for the little ones to forget the separation from their biological family, and adjust to a new place?

      With the older kids, I guess I thought of it as them being "older" psychologically while "younger" academically. A child who's "seen it all" doesn't quite fit into the same mold as a child who's attending the normal grade level and growing up in a nurturing family. I did meet one girl who had been kept from going to school for 2 years, and she loved going to school again. But she was a little "off" socially.

      I've probably mentioned this, but I read some material about how the U.S. transitioned from orphanages to foster care. At some point they made the decision to focus energy/funds/ whatever on keeping families together, through rehab or other steps if necessary. While Russia tries to make the orphanages as effective as possible, the U.S. tries to get families to where they can have their children back. There are pros and cons to both!

      Yes, children can bond very well with the people in their orphanage and make good memories together. With the recent deaths and funerals at the orphanage, I witnessed how close everyone is and how they look out for each other. But isn't it a little sad when a young person's ONLY emotional bonds are in an institution which he must leave?

    2. Perhaps you are right, Annie. My knowledge is limited, but I was just thinking about how foster care is rare in Russia, as Elizabeth mentioned, and at least there is that option here in Canada - I think being in a family setting in a home is healthier then in a orphanage though of course, not all foster homes are healthy or caring places.

      I also can't imagine children being given different treatment or resources simply because their parents are dead or alive - here orphaned or abandoned children are able to get the same care.

    3. Russian foster care exists in the legal sense, but efforts are focused on improving orphanages as opposed to helping foster families, although the government makes promises about promoting adoption. I think that as long as there are orphanages to fall back on, foster families will always be rather tentative.

      It's true that the U.S. foster care system isn't the best, but I still agree that the IDEAL foster care situation is better than the IDEAL orphanage, as a structure. And adoption, of course, is even better.

  3. Elizabeth, I agree with your last statement - though I think it is very difficult to keep tabs on foster homes - easier, perhaps, on orphanages...though certainly much that is wrong has gone on in orphanages.

    While the idea that foster parents CARE for children both emotionally and physically seems like it should be obvious, I was really shocked to realize that the "workers" never expected that we'd do more than keep the kids safe, fed, etc. In fact, in a few cases I know about (ours included) the workers tried to PREVENT attachment from occurring, sick as that sounds. And Maxim had NO ONE else in the world who loved him. I could not fathom what they were up to, honestly.

    Also, to my horror, when children age out of foster care, they are often (probably because of this same seeming aim that there is little bonding) just tossed out on the street. I was reading the story in our paper the other day about a girl who came home from school the day she turned 18 and found her belongings on the porch.

    1. That is terrible! I am an advocate for adoption, myself. I have friends in the U.S. who became foster parents (for short-term placement, not sure what that's called officially), and they were primarily interested in giving children a temporary stable home while reaching out to the parents and helping them get back on their feet. It can become sort of an extended family. But when the child is permanently in limbo, that's pretty bad. Maybe it partly depends on the age of the child, but I'd think openness about expectations (whether in foster care or the orphanage) might help? So that the caregivers could communicate that they CARE, but won't necessarily be around forever.

  4. As a parent who has met their child and then got caught up in this adoption ban, the orphans in Russia have a very special place in my heart. Is there any way that we could walk along side of you or partner with you in caring for practical needs or ministry needs? We would love to continue to help and support if possible.


    1. Hello,

      If you email me I could link you up with some orphan ministries here!


Just added word verification to reduce spam. Nothing personal!

You’re welcome to leave a link to your own blog here if it's relevant to this blog.

Please make sure that your comments are 1) relevant and 2) respectful (i.e. no cuss words, attacks on individuals).

5 years later

 After my latest  weird dream sequence , I found my mind wandering to an alternate scenario where our church never split up . I did the math...