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Aging Out in Eastern Europe

We started this series, Glimpses, with the United States because this is where we have access to the most information regarding youth in state care. As we move to show the different situations worldwide, we are grouping countries together to explain the situation as fully as possible. We want to clarify that this information comes from research rather than experience, which means it is incomplete. Try as we might, we can’t account for the children who are off-record or for the ones whose stories are misrepresented. If you have first-hand information you would like to add, please comment below!

Eastern Europe

Latvia

"Rarely does an orphan complete more than the 9th grade. When they leave their orphanages, if a room is available in the surrounding community, the government will provide a room, many times in social buildings where they are joined by alcoholics, drug addicts, invalids, and ex-prisoners. And many times, an orphan must wait for months upon months for a place to live. On the day these orphans age out of institutional care, they are usually provided with a few days of food in a sack, a little money, their change of clothes, and that is all… For many, alcoholism, drugs, prostitution, sex, multiple abortions, social disease, and prison define their futures."

-Life Song for Orphans

Ukraine

"Upon leaving their orphanage, the teenage orphans assume responsibility for themselves. The question of continuing their education is a very difficult one, since they must also find a place to live and some way to support themselves. The government is not prepared to help them. These young people lack any sort of professional skills and have a hard time finding work. Unfortunately, there are always people who are ready to take advantage of their inexperience, lack of skills and naïveté. Unofficial statistics show that a majority of the young girls who are "freed" from the orphanage end up becoming prostitutes, selling themselves cheap simply in order to live."

-Agape for Orphans

Organizations such as Disability Rights International suggest that the surest way of providing a child with a safe future is by creating more government oversight and creating a stonger legal structure to protect the children in their care. This claim is made because orphanages can often be used to manipulate situations, such as the war being faced in Ukraine, to take advantage of children in their care. Evidence gathered by DRI suggests that traffickers use the orphanages as the middle man, and this has been recorded in other countries throughout Eastern Europe as well. Another problem created by institutionalization is that children with disabilities, regardless of the level of disability, have a hard time leaving state care, which results in them moving from one home to another even in their adult lives.

Similar organizations advocate to disband orphanages altogether and instead place the children in foster families, as studies have shown this enhances their mental and physical wellbeing.

Romania

Romania’s history with orphans is often highlighted at the time of the communist dictator, Ceausescu, who put into law a mandate that essentially called for women to have multiple children. This lead to high rates of child abandonment, leading to over crowded orphanages. Due to the poverty often, if not always, experienced in countries ruled by dictatorships, the children in care were seen as "the least of these” and were poorly nourished and cared for. This is an interesting read from great advocates, The Archibald Project. This was brought to light in the western world in 1990, when ABC’s 20/20 crew did a documentary on the crisis and exposed the poor conditions the children faced every day. This lead to a rush in Romanian adoptions from American’s that stayed relatively high until 2004, when Romania closed inter country adoptions with the U.S. The culture of abandonment, however, has not changed since the end of Ceausescu’s reign.

There are an estimated 100,000 abandoned children and 400,000 highly at-risk vulnerable Gypsy children in Romania today. UNICEF reports that the abandonment rate has remained unchanged in the past 30 years.

While orphanages have changed policies and this part of the world is being encouraged to take on the Foster Family model, children who exit orphanages now still face very real hardship. Physiological damage, crime, addiction, prostitution, homelessness - these are bleak realities many young people who age out of state care face in Romania.

What Do We Say to These Things?

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound min