Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Armenian Adoption Adventure- Armenia works to reduce number of children in orphanage for preferred foster homes

 July 2, 2014

After years of resistance, the Armenian government has decided to take the advice of international organizations and introduce a foster family system that would make it possible to reduce the number of children attending the country’s orphanages and special schools.

“We should do everything for children to grow up in a family environment. Of course, it is most desirable that they grow within their biological family, but if it is not possible, then they should grow with foster parents, or, at least, in an environment with conditions close to family conditions,” said Minister of Labor and Social Affairs of Armenia Artem Sargsyan during July 1 public hearings dealing with children’s issues. (The hearings were initiated by the Child Protection Network and the Child Pact international organization.)

The minister said that foster families will help take the burden off orphanages and special schools by 50-60 percent and for the staff of these institutions not to become unemployed, the orphanages and special schools will be turned into social centers, as today’s 20 daycare and three social care facilities do not satisfy the corresponding needs of Armenia’s 915 communities.

At present, there are six state-run orphanages in Armenia attended by a total of 730 children. And although the number of healthy children in orphanages has been on the decline in recent years, their number at specialized children’s care centers, such as special schools, daycare or rehabilitation centers, continues to grow.

During their visits last year representatives of the Ombudsman’s Office found out that 30 percent of children at special schools are children without any special needs and their parents take them to orphanages because of social problems.

According to World Vision Armenia data, the parents of 70 percent of 350 children at five special schools of in Yerevan would take their children to general public schools if they got social support.

For reforms in the system USAID will provide $5 million to Armenia in the next five years so that the government makes no additional expenses.

Moreover, a study by the United Nations Children’s Fund shows that the government today spends $4,000 a year per child at an orphanage or a special institution, while in case of children’s living in foster families the spending would average $3,000 and the government would be able to save up to $1.8 million annually.

“Commonly child services need to be centered to the child, to the family, and it should be spread in Armenia and when having conversation with Armenian Diaspora one should seek co-financing for the state to realize the child protection policy,” Henriette Ahrens, representative of UNICEF Armenia, said during the hearing.

UNICEF Armenia Office representative Anna Harutyunyan added that paying primary attention to financing and conditions, representatives of the sphere pay only secondary attention to the child’s right to live in a family.

“The best place for children is their family, no matter what food or conditions they get there. Children want their mother, their family, we should make it the core of our operations.”

Harutyunyan said that two schools for children with special needs would be closed in Sisian and Goris this summer and from September the children of these schools will start attending public schools.

A foster family pilot program was launched in Armenia in 2008 when 24 children were placed in 23 families. Maga Ter-Hovhannisyan, an employee of the Children’s Support Foundation Center of the Fund for Armenian Relief, the organization that implements the program, considers the process to be a success, as many of the children continue to have contacts with their foster families even after they turn 18.


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