Ukraine’s Orphancare System: Advocating for Family-Based Care and Transitioning from Large Institutions

All right, let’s dive into some of the largest issues within the Ukrainian North America. If you don’t know who I am, my name is Lena. I’m an American, but I have lived in Ukraine for the past two and a/2 years, volunteering and working within the Ukrainian Orphancare system. One of my biggest things that I do is advocate for the institutionalized care within Ukraine. If you don’t know, Ukraine still uses large institutions as the main form of care for children that are entering into the orphan care system. There is a smaller foster care system that does exist, not nearly enough foster homes to accommodate all of the children within the system. There are also a few small group homes, but again, not nearly enough to accommodate all of the children. So they still rely on these very large institutions which can house anywhere from like 75 to 300 kids under one roof. And this includes infants, Children’s Disabilities. Some of these institutions are even designed for adults with disabilities.

Institutionalized care is just a really big part of the system here. One of the things I wanna touch on first is just the general issue with institutionalized care. This type of care does exist outside of Ukraine, but it is usually in more developing countries that haven’t been able to either afford or have the strategy to transition to family based care, is the number one saw after care when it comes to what is in the best interest of the children. Places like the US, Canada and many places in Europe have transition to family based care for the children within their state or government run systems. The reason that this type of transition is so necessary is because we have proof that institutionalized care does not provide adequate mental, emotional, physical support for children. Institutionalized care very much looks like classroom setting that you would see in school, but these kids are their full time and even infants are their full time. So they’re not receiving the one on one intentional attention that they need in order to be able to reach their developmental milestones. We see issues of children being severely delayed in their communication abilities, in their physical milestones of being able to crawl and walk. Which just snowballs or domino effects into further delays when it comes to finally reaching education for these kids and being able to integrate into society or have any type of independence later in life.

One point I really want to make clear is that it does not matter if we even work to try to make these institutions better by hiring more staff or creating more resources. Children are never gonna develop best in these institutionalized settings. Children belong in families. They belong in places where they are going to receive love and affection and care that is individualized to their need. And that is just not possible in these large institutionalized settings. I am, even as someone who is currently building and developing a small group home, I am even to the belief that small group’s homes are not the best solution. The reason that we are pursuing a small group promise, because we need a stepping stone for the system in Ukraine to go from these large institutions to eventually reach family base care. The reality is that there are just not enough families willing to take in these children right now, especially children with disabilities or children that come from large sibling sets, there’s not enough places to put them. So all of this is to say that Ukraine and the Ukrainian people need to realize that institutionalized care is not a solution for these children. It is doing more harm than good for these children. And we really need to work more diligently on transitioning the system as a whole from these large institutions to family based care. I really do think that a stepping stone in that is small group homes, which create a smaller setting where children have more individualized care and attention.

I realize that this is an expensive transition, it is also going to take years and years to move out of this Soviet area system. I have, like, we have to remember that the system as it exists today, the orphanage system in Ukraine was developed under the Soviet Union. So we wanna move out of that cuz we know that those are broken systems. So moving out of that system and developing a system that better helps these children to develop and thrive and will eventually be able to fully integrate into the Ukrainian society because that’s what they need and they deserve. So this is just one and a very general issue within the system. Follow along if you wanna hear how more specifically in Ukraine, the system’s very thing.