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Reforming Children’s Residential Institutions in Kyrgyzstan

“The country’s socio-economic profile, the large outflow of labor migrants, the low social support for children with disabilities, poor social services and preventive framework to forestall children being placed in residential units – all these factors indicate that children end up now and would yet be placed in childcare facilities”, – said Aigerim Arzymatova, participant of CABAR.asia School of Analytics , in an article for CABAR.asia.

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More than 10 thousand children in Kyrgyzstan live in residential institutions. The need to refine and reform childcare facilities was supported by the President of the Kyrgyz Republic back in 2012, who established a working group to reform orphanages and childcare units and approved a reform program.

However, the adoption of the program has not decreased the number of children in residential institutions. Why do children continue to end up in special facilities? How does institutional culture affect child development? What’s the progress of the reform program in the Kyrgyz Republic? Is the state ready to provide orphans with family care?

From the shelter of the family to a childcare unit

Of the 10 thousand children in residential facilities, only five percent are biological orphans. The remaining 95 percent are social orphans who have at least one living parent. Most children end up in residential facilities for the same reasons: not affording a child in the family; disabilities; children born out of wedlock and children of migrant workers. A significant factor contributing to children’s stay in residential units is the inability to afford to have a kid in the family. Most often this refers to large families living below the poverty line.

Children from large families have a greater chance of ending up in childcare units.
The 2o17 poverty rate in the country, calculated according to consumer spending, amounted to 25.6 percent or 1.6 million citizens.[1] In 2018, the poverty rate was 22.4 percent (1.4 million people)[2], which is 3.2 percent less than in 2017. Surely we cannot correlate the population growth with a low poverty reduction processes, but given the rate of natural population growth (1.9 percent in 2017 and 2.1 in 2018), which is quite high by world standards, children from large families have a greater chance of ending up in childcare units.[3]

Disappointed in low income and sometimes unemployment, more and more people leave the country in search of new opportunities abroad. As the number of labor migrants increases, there is a simultaneous increase in the number of children left behind, at best in the care of relatives.

According to the National Statistics Committee, the migration outflow in 2018 amounted to 5.4 thousand people (the migration outflow in 2017 was 3.9 thousand people). As a result, migration outflow intensity (migration balance per 1,000 persons) increased from -0.6 people in 2017 to -0.9 people in 2018.[4]  The efforts of neighboring states in relaxing their migration policies have certainly contributed to the growing number of labor migrants, while also increasing the number of children left behind.

Labor migrants often leave their children in residential care units in hopes that their children would be supervised and have access to education and medical care. A UNICEF situation analysis of children in the Kyrgyz Republic suggests that children of labor migrants left in the care of relatives or placed in institutions are one of the most disadvantaged groups of children in Kyrgyzstan and are becoming more vulnerable to abuse and violence.[5]

Children with disabilities

Children with disabilities are one of the most vulnerable groups of children being placed in institutions. There were nearly 30 thousand children registered with the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy in 2019, 3215 of which are children[6] living in residential care units.[7]

Based on a relevant evaluation of the medical and social expert commission, those entitled to childcare allowance can receive 4,900 soms (about 65 US dollars) for a child with a disability, which on average is the subsistence minimum for one minor child.[8]

Families that have a child with a disability are often stigmatized by society. It is difficult for them to access basic services such as education and medical care. This is often a primary cause of children with disabilities ending up in childcare facilities.

Wheelchairs at one of Kyrgyzstan’s childcare units. Source: Twitter.com/Veronique8802

The country’s socio-economic profile, the large outflow of labor migrants, the low social support for children with disabilities, poor social services and preventive framework to forestall children being placed in residential units – all these factors suggest that children end up now and would yet be placed in childcare facilities.

Life at residential institutions and its impact on children

Of the 137 childcare institutions, more than half are part of Kyrgyzstan’s Education and Science Ministry, the rest are included in the systems of the Labor and Social Development Ministry and the Health Ministry. Along with state institutions, there are municipal and non-governmental childcare units, which include religious residential institutions.[9]

Scattered geographical distribution and remoteness of childcare facilities across regions are an impediment to the control over institutions and the lives of children in them.
A childcare unit in one of the regions in Kyrgyzstan. Source: Twitter.com/Veronique8802

Kyrgyz Ombudsman’s Special Report highlights recurrent cases of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse in childcare facilities.

Child abusers are often both childcare unit employees and pupils themselves (most often older children physically abusing younger ones).[10] Therefore, children sent to residential institutions inevitably find themselves in the category of vulnerable children.

Lack of care, attention, and communication, poor living conditions that differ from living in a family – all these factors contribute in molding a child as an individual. The emotional and mental wellbeing of children raised without parental care is fundamentally different from their peers growing up in the family.

Throughout all childhood stages – from infancy to adulthood – the mental health of these children has several negative implications. Psychological traumas inflicted on the orphans affect all dimensions of man’s function,[11] which would clearly have an impact on an independent life as an adult.

With an education received at the institutions, orphans find it difficult to compete in the labor market. Exposed to various difficult jobs in attempts to earn money, kids that grew up in children’s homes often experience hardship. Having attained the age of majority, kids do not get any assistance in their life after childcare facilities and are left alone with their problems.

Do we need childcare facilities?

The State’s interest in attempts to end child institutionalize extends to plans for their optimization/ elimination and transformation. For example, the plan to optimize the management and financing of childcare facilities in the Kyrgyz Republic for 2013-2018, approved by Decree of the Kyrgyz Government dated December 7, 2012 No. 813, provided for the establishment of institutional arrangements to optimize and enhance the functioning of childcare units and social services.

The recent Decree of the Kyrgyz Government No. 479 of 08/14/2017, has approved a further Action Plan for reforming childcare facilities system for 2019-2021, whose main objective is to ensure the right of a child in the facility to a family environment.

Amendments to the country’s legislation in the field of child protection envisions several measures to simplify the procedure for relatives to obtain full custody of the children of labor migrants that are left without parental care.

The regulation also includes measures to reintegrate or return children with parents, but staying in childcare units, back to biological families, as well as to organize social guidance for children returned to biological families and those adopted into foster families[12].

In implementing the foregoing initiatives, 10 out of 17 childcare facilities are currently optimized/transformed. Of these 10 institutions, 2 have been closed, while the rest have been either re-profiled or transformed[13] . The remaining childcare facilities are in the process of transformation. Thus, Kyrgyzstan’s de-institutionalization efforts are centered on the reduction and transformation of children’s homes. Time will tell whether the work reformed childcare units will be effective.

Kyrgyzstan’s de-institutionalization efforts are centered on the reduction and transformation of children’s homes.

According to the Regulation on the foster family, approved by the Decree of the Kyrgyz Government as of October 1, No. 670, a foster family can adopt a child by signing a child placement agreement. Foster parents must meet certain criteria and attend a special seminar, which is a hopeful sign for the child to get an education and care in an adoptive family. To become an adoptive parent, citizens must contact the district/city department of labor and social development at their place of residence.

According to Kyrgyzstan’s Labor and Social Development Ministry, 10 children were adopted by foster families in 2014, whilst 34 children were adopted by 2019. We can, therefore, assert that the optimization efforts have contributed to a slight increase in the number of foster families. However, we still hope that while arranging the placement of a child in the foster family, the priority efforts are devoted not to paperwork, but rather to work with future parents.

Are there enough foster families out there?

Institutional development of foster families depends on positive public opinion and the diversified state support along with the provision of certain benefits, which in the Kyrgyz Republic is fixed at 6 thousand soms (about 80 US dollars) per child and 6 thousand soms to adoptive parents. At the same time, it is important to understand the underlying motivation for foster families to adopt a child. So, authorities need to make sure adopting a child doesn’t rely on a monetary incentive only, and children won’t be sent back to childcare units as a result.

Before deciding to become a foster family, one should recognize that they won’t be left alone with any hardships. Health services, especially for families adopting a child in poor health, should be guaranteed.

The optimization is not certainly an expeditious process; it requires a comprehensive effort of government bodies, respective directors of childcare facilities, and social workers.

Hereby, the development of regulations should take into account the interest of childcare units management and its employees, so they won’t risk losing their job, while children are being adopted by foster families.

The State needs to provide individualized support for every foster family in order to avoid massive returns of children to facilities in the future. The special seminar for foster parents is actually a 72-hour training with counselors and social workers. The latter send their recommendations to Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Labor and Social Development evaluating whether trainees are ready to become a foster family.[14] In the case of a positive evaluation, the family gets certified and become a potential foster family. The further assistance of foster parents, however, remains a crucial area of concern due to the lack of qualified social workers.

Conclusion and recommendations

As mentioned above, many studies indicate that children’s homes do not safeguard the interests of the children, cause a delay in their physical development and deprive them of social, emotional, and intellectual stimulation that can hamper the healthy development of a child’s brain.[15] In this connection, the Kyrgyz Republic, driven by an ambition to reduce and eliminate orphanages, decided to adopt the Program for the Optimization / Elimination / Transformation of residential institutions for children.

Attention should be paid to preventing placement of children in state residential institutions, identifying families in difficult situations, temporarily placing a child in a foster family until the difficult family situation is resolved, and if not possible, to choose a foster family for a long-term stay. As of the state, timely financial and emotional support for biological families in risk categories is critically needed.

The starting point in preventing child abandonment is for social workers to work in an efficient and timely manner. It is therefore proposed to increase the number of social workers, raise their status, eliminate staff turnover through various stimulus and refresher training.

Another task the State should set forth in the search for alternative forms of placement of the child, primarily family forms. It is therefore recommended to conduct an information campaign and awareness-raising session on legal matters. The number of orphans adopted by foster families will certainly be the main measure of the efficiency of child abandonment policies.

It is essential to ensure family support from the early placement of the child, provide counseling and further support for families to avoid child abuse and the massive returns back to residential institutions. It is therefore proposed to establish a dedicated service for the monitoring and support of each family locally.

This material has been prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial board or donor.

[1] According to the National Statistics Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic http://www.stat.kg/media/publicationarchive/e6b6504b-fbdc-4699-9cf5-1f13d0eafaa1.pdf

[2] According to the National Statistics Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic http://www.stat.kg/media/publicationarchive/c98319ab-1c36-44a4-b473-90f99860b079.pdf

[3] According to the National Statistics Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic  

[4] According to the National Statistics Committee of the Kyrgyz Republic  

[5] https://www.unicef.org/kyrgyzstan/media/1381/file/Situation_Analisys_2015_rus_ver.pdf%20.pdf

[6] https://24.kg/obschestvo/134859_vkyirgyizstane_tolko_14protsentov_detey_sinvalidnostyu_obuchayutsya_vshkolah/

[7] https://www.unicef.org/kyrgyzstan/ru/%D0%B4%D0%B5%D1%82%D0%B8-%D1%81-%D0%B8%D0%BD%D0% B2% D0% B0% D0% BB% D0% B8% D0% B4% D0% BD% D0% BE% D1% 81% D1% 82% D1% 8C% D1% 8E

[8] http://www.stat.kg/media/files/b19ccdf7-4336-4ca3-8625-696bfb5072ea.pdf

[9] From the Ministry of Labor and Social Development website

[10] http://child.mlsp.gov.kg/index.php#close

[11] Special report of the Ombudsman of the Kyrgyz Republic “Respecting the rights of children without parental care”, Bishkek 2017

[12] E. A. Selivanova, “Problems of the emotional development of inmates of orphanages,” Vestnik KGU im. N. A. Nekrasov №4, 2010

[13] http://cbd.minjust.gov.kg/act/view/ru-ru/100203?cl=ru-ru#p4

[14]  According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Development of the Kyrgyz Republic, dated on 05/15/2019 

[15] https://www.unicef.org/kyrgyzstan/ru/%D0%B4%D0%BB%D1%8F-%D0%BA%D0%B0%D0%B6%D0%B4%D0%BE % D0% B3% D0% BE-% D1% 80% D0% B5% D0% B1% D0% B5% D0% BD% D0% BA% D0% B0-% D1% 81% D0% B5% D0% BC % D1% 8C% D1% 8F

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