6 Ways to Help Russian Orphans

1 – Stop calling them orphans 

Almost all the children growing up in Russian children’s homes have living parents.  The are sometimes called “social orphans”, but they are not orphans in the true sense.  Their parents have been judged unfit to look after them, and they have been taken away from them for their own protection.  If we think about them as “children in care”, then we can be more clear-sighted about how to help them.  Let’s support organisations that really make a difference instead of giving to the “orphanages” that are part of the problem. 

2 – Prevent children being abandoned or taken away from their parents where possible 

Parents who grew up in Russian orphanages with their young daughter.

A recent report from the World Bank noted that state social work services in Russia were not strong enough to properly “identify, prevent, and case-manage child neglect, abuse and family disfunction.” Opportunities to resolve mental health problems, help mothers in toxic relationships and support struggling new parents are being missed.  Failing parents are so easily stigmatised, but we know that the right kind of help can turn their relationships around.  We have been working with the Sunflower Centre in St Petersburg providing therapy, play therapy and parenting skills to parents who grew up in orphanages.  This group of parents is particularly likely to struggle because of their own traumatic childhood. Again and again, we see families taken off the at-risk register and children and parents starting to thrive. 

3 – Improve support for local foster carers and adoptive parents 

We congratulate the Russian government on the huge strides it has made to reduce the number of children who are taken into children’s homes or “orphanages”.  More and more children are being cared for by foster parents or are locally adopted.  However, too many of these placements break down causing heartbreak on all sides.  The children have been through traumatic experiences, which can deeply mark them.  They need help to adapt to their new situation.  Parents also find it difficult to tackle what seems like bad behaviour, when standard parenting techniques often fail.  They need to understand their child’s behaviour and a whole new style of parenting that works.  This is another strand of Sunflower’s work in St Petersburg, providing therapy and training for adoptive families. 

4 – Improve care within the remaining children’s homes 

Numbers may be reducing, but in 2020 there were still 41,505* children and teenagers living in children’s homes.  Children’s homes are not well-suited to helping children overcome trauma, but there is room for improvement.  Sunflower offers training to psychologists and social workers working in institutions.  Too many staff are ill-equipped to deal with challenging behaviour and soon reach burn-out.  With the right training they can start to make a difference to young lives, helping them lead happier, healthier lives. 

5 – Support young people who grew up in orphanages 

Young orphanage-leavers and members of a Sunflower support group.

Teenagers and young adults are not as appealing as younger children, but they still need our help.  Going out into the world and living independently is one of the most terrifying experiences for young people who have been institutionalised.  By offering support at this crucial moment, Sunflower is able to prevent suicides, homelessness, domestic abuse, and addiction.  They help young people deal with their childhood trauma and give them the skills and confidence to get a job, maintain a home and build strong relationships. 

6 – Break the cycle – stop the next generation becoming social orphans 

By donating to support Sunflower’s vital work, you can actually prevent children becoming social orphans.  Please give what you can to our Christmas appeal in aid of Sunflower’s parenting programme for parents who grew up in children’s homes.   Your gift will prevent neglect and abuse and help build happy, loving families.  One generation of trauma is enough.  Let’s step in and stop it repeating. 

* Stats from the World Bank report