Over one thousand children are without families in Latvia. “Empty the orphanages”, but there are increasing number of children in half of them

The government’s commitment is to find a family for the 1,200 children currently living in "social care centres.” But foster care and adoption procedures are complicated and not very widespread. On top of this stands the problem of foreign adoptions. The Archbishop of Riga, Msgr. Zbignevs Stankevics, said: "When you help a child, you are helping God inside him.” The "Repairing childhood" initiative is ongoing.

(Foto: AFP/SIR)

As Latvia celebrates its 100th anniversary of independence in 2018, it set the goal of emptying its orphanages so that each of the approximately 1,200 children still living in “social care centres” may be welcomed in a Latvian family by 2021. The Ministry for Social Affairs headed by Jānis Reirs launched a nationwide campaign to encourage the “de-institutionalization” of the care of these children. The majority are minors over-10, most of whom were taken out of families with addiction problems (alcohol, drugs). Since 1999 over 1,000 children have been adopted by families in the United States, 370 in Lithuania and 100 in Estonia (that now forbids adoption from abroad). In the last three years 250 to 300 children were given up for adoption abroad or in Latvia, a country with less than 2 million inhabitants and a gross average wage of approximately 900 Euros.

The problem of foreign adoptions. In recent weeks, however, front-page news denounced foreign adoption agencies active in Latvia allegedly facilitating international adoptions to the United States by profiting from adoption procedures with numerous irregularities to the detriment of the children themselves, in some cases taken from foster families where they had already been placed, albeit temporarily. The case was also addressed by the Human Rights Committee of the Latvian Parliament,  and Minister Reirs announced on 31 October that he intends to create a working group on this issue with a view to drafting new rules to tighten the measures regulating foreign adoptions.

The position of the Catholic Church. The issue is at the centre of heated debates in Latvia, as emerged in a meeting held on December 7 at the House of the Holy Family in Riga on “pros and cons of foreign adoption”, reported to SIR by Ingrida Lisenkova, from the information service of the Catholic Church in Latvia.

While on the one hand a Latvian child has the right to grow up in his homeland, going abroad often provides opportunities – in terms of education, health, work, and at social level – that would not be found in any other way.

Thus there are those who see “the care of orphans abroad as a good solution for these children who would otherwise have an uncertain and difficult future in our Country” while some believe that “our society must change and learn to take responsibility, to take care of those who had the misfortune of being born into families” that were unable to raise them. In this respect, the archbishop of Riga, Msgr. Zbignevs Stankevics, declared: “When you help a child, you are helping God who is inside him” and “it is a great contribution, as they are the future of Latvia. If the pace of growth in humanity is slower than that of gross domestic product, then our Country will experience a major crisis.”

The initiative “Repairing childhood” in the streets of Riga.

Violence, the government’s apologies. Another aspect of the problem of children without a family emerged in the spring, with numerous cases of ill-treatment in “orphanages”, starting from that of Jelgava, where the director of the Centre and almost all the staff had resigned. The incident led Minister Jānis Reirs to declare: “I want to apologize, on behalf of the country, to people whose lives have been irreversibly broken, but also to those who have been able to build a life, despite enormous obstacles. I apologize for the fact that there are still orphanages and similar institutions in Latvia, even though the state has declared that every child should be raised in a family environment.”

Foster care and adoption procedures. Since the children up for adoption are older than 10, may of whom with difficulties of various kinds – the so-called “children of the system” – the problem of foster care in families is not only an economic issue, albeit not irrelevant in this respect. On these grounds the Minister said he would create a working group

Tasked with examining the reasons preventing Latvian families from adopting children,

thereby identifying the best solutions. “These are Latvian children and as a society we have the duty to take care of them”, Lisenkova remarked. The proposals made by the Minister include faster procedures for foster care and adoption, along with the establishment of the PLECS program, providing “counselling centres” to facilitate the entire procedure, to select, prepare and accompany the foster families by means of psychological counselling and the creation of support groups.

“Repairing childhood.” A high number of religious and civil society associations are actively engaged in this field, along with the traditional “orphan Sunday, an international awareness day held the first Sunday of November”, said Ingrida Lisenkova. The Day “promoted by Christian Churches, envisages, in addition to special prayers during the celebrations, initiatives for children in orphanages who are invited into the communities.” The goal is to raise awareness on this problem. Some parish churches “activated a form of ‘adoption’ of an orphanage with the purpose of establishing friendships with the children living there.” A “memorandum of cooperation” was adopted by five stakeholders (Latvian radio and television, Ministry for social affairs, Seb Bank, Ziedot – an organization involved in fundraising for charity purposes)

to raise awareness and collect funds for families who wish to adopt a child or become foster parents.

For example, the national broadcasting network Program 5 promoted the solidarity marathon “Repairing childhood”, ongoing from December 17th to the 23rd: famous DJs will be speaking from a glass radio studio set up in the central square overlooking Riga’s cathedral. Bystanders and listeners can request their favourite song with a five-euro donation, which corresponds “to a half-hour of support to families under the PLECS program.”

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