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!
"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."
"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."
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’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 mind.
2 Timothy 1:7
This can often be overwhelming, your first time hearing it or your third or fourth. This is a startling reality. What do we say to such heart break? As Christians, we say there is hope.
We believe in the One who saves souls, who loves the forgotten, who sets the captives free, who heals the broken hearted (Isaiah 61). We believe in the One who came to save those who are lost and hurting. His name is Jesus.
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
It’s hard to look at these situations and we try to find solutions, but there really is only one thing, one solution. It’s Jesus. Even if we could get them out of poverty, get them away from traffickers, find them stable jobs, we can’t save these kid’s souls. That is the work of the Father. There is one thing that every human is in need of, and that is salvation. We are called to bring that good news, to love and serve the people God has put in front of us. Empty Frames Initiative is our step towards obedience in this calling. What is yours?
Ways You Can Help
"What started out as a dream of overflowing orchards in 1991 has blossomed into a ministry that has touched the lives of thousands of orphans, volunteers, staff, and supporters. Livada is the Romanian word for orchard and serves as a symbol of what we want our ministry to continue to do- bear fruit that will last. Today Livada is focused on fulfilling our original mission to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in five main ways:
Residential Care through a full-time, family style approach in group homes, mentor apartments, and private foster care
Cradle Care of abandoned infants and toddlers in hospital wards and domestic foster to adopt program
Orphan Outreach to abandoned kids in state care facilities
Prevention of Abandonment efforts in Gypsy villages
Romania Without Orphans Alliance to mobilize the Church and State in Romania to care for the vulnerable around them.”
This organization has many ways you can get involved right now!
This organization’s heart is to "connect and create capacities for orphans graduating by arranging housing, jobs, life coach training canters, and business opportunities in Russia."
We want to empower orphans aging out of state care to tell and redeem their stories, stories that often go unheard. How do we hope to do this? We are looking to open a facility that will provide counseling, training in life skills, community and the knowledge of the gospel. We will be taking abandoned buildings, restoring and renovating them into facilities that will provide hope, healing and the power to carry on. We believe that the empty frames of these buildings reflect the empty frames in people's lives and that by restoring these broken places we can take part in restoring broken people. A major aspect of this dream is engaging the church, and asking them to love and impact society. The Lord asks us to walk humbly with Him. He asks for a relationship. Our hope and prayer is that this initiative would be an outpouring of a relationship with Christ and that many would come to know Him through it.
See our latest post, 5 Ways to Help, for ways you can be a part of Empty Frames Initiative's story!
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father." The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Romans 8:14-18