Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Armenian Adoption Adventure-Armenia to get more funding for Foster Care

Anahit Bakhshyan, a tireless warrior for Armenian children in Armenia.

Only 25 children have been placed in foster families in Armenia as part of a state program introduced in 2006. Specialists say the program that sets the goal of reducing the number of children in orphanages also aims at helping overcome psychological barriers. Insufficient funding, however, is mentioned as one of the reasons for its being slow so far.

There are 11 orphanages in Armenia, four of them private, accommodating more than 1,200 children left without parental care.

UNICEF Armenia communication officer Emil Sahakyan says jointly with the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs they are working to increase the number of foster families in Armenia. But most current and potential guardians find it difficult to go on a monthly allowance of 70,000 drams (about $200) and an equivalent of a minimum salary (32,500 drams, less than $85). But state funds are not sufficient for a raise in this payment.

“This, however, should not be a reason for the process to slow or be left half-finished, as the state generally should pay attention in every way to needy families so that children do not appear in orphanages,” says Sahakyan.

Opposition Heritage Party MP Anahit Bakhshyan welcomes the current program, but criticizes the government for not increasing budget allocations for paying monthly allowances to foster families in Armenia.

MP Gagik Baghdasaryan, a representative of Orinats Yerkir, one of the three parties in the ruling coalition, says as part of a UNICEF program with a group of other lawmakers, he recently visited Norway to learn how work is organized in this sphere by the country’s child rights protection office.

“I think it would be useful and very important to introduce a similar institution in Armenia, an institution that would deal with issues of interest to all of us – how to reduce the number of children in orphanages, solve housing problems for those who come from orphanages, encourage foster families and so on, so forth,” says the pro-government lawmaker.

Forty apartments have been purchased due to government funds intended for those leaving orphanages since 2003 when another program of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, “State Support for Alumni of Childcare Organizations”, was launched. However, 28 of these apartments remain unlived in. Those living in the remaining 12 apartments have complained about poor conditions.

There has been no state budget allocation in 2011 nor is allocated for 2012 for purchasing apartments for orphanage graduates. (By law, orphans must leave orphanages by age 18. At present, there are 300 such graduates waiting for apartments that they have the right to receive by law. Another 15 young people will turn 18 and will have to leave orphanages in 2012, joining the current 300 former orphanage children waiting for homes from the state.)

In July 2010 the National Assembly’s Audit Chamber said it had revealed abuse by three organizations involved in the realization of the housing program for orphanage alumni. It said the total cost of the misappropriations in the program reached more than 1.2 billion drams (about $3.2 million).

“The program will not be implemented since its funding was misappropriated in 2003-2009. It is also said that the 28 apartments in which former orphanage children have refused to live will be offered to other graduates, but these are apartments where, as they say, even dogs will not live,” claims Bakhshyan.

The money confiscated from offending companies is expected to be used in 2012 by the Ministry of Urban Development for building social houses in Gyumri and Stepanavan.

Gavar orphanage director Nikolai Nalbandyan tells ArmeniaNow that they continue keeping their charges who turn 18 if they have nowhere to go.

“It is a very painful issue. The state should have some intermediate institutions where such children could stay for about four years after leaving orphanages at age 18, so that they become fully fledged adults,” he says.

(The army to where all males in Armenia reaching the age of 18 are drafted for a two-year service on a compulsory basis partly acts as such an intermediate institution. But in reality it only rarely helps orphan alumni get a life after demobilization, while more often than not alumni continue to face the same problems as they had before conscription).

In the case with Gavar’s orphanage the problem is also partly solved thanks to the Our House project in Echmiadzin. Every year the institution accommodates five young people who leave the orphanage in Gavar. According to agreements signed in advance, these former orphanage children spend four years there, during which time they are supposed to graduate from college or university, get an apartment from the state and become able to sustain themselves.

Ani Arakelyan, 26, lives in Our House. She came from the Gavar orphanages. It is already six years that she has been on a waiting list for state housing. Her agreement with Our House expired in November, but the NGO continues to keep her because Ani has nowhere to go.

Two weeks ago, together with several other former orphanage children, Ani met with Labor and Social Affairs Minister Artur Grigoryan. The minister, she says, presented a social housing program to them. “But I don’t think I will go to live in a province, I cannot find a job there, I have no one there,” says Ani, who is a psychologist by training.

Hasmik Gyurjinyan, 26, is in the same situation. Her agreement with Our House has also expired. Hasmik works in one of Echmiadzin’s kindergartens. Both young women are in a difficult situation as they have to leave the NGO by March 1 next year.

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