Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Georgian Childcare Reform Criticised

Experts concerned that move to improve conditions for children may do the opposite.
By Natia Kuprashvili

Georgia is closing its children’s homes and moving their residents into foster families, but experts are concern that it is rushing into a reform that will leave the children worse off.

The orphanage where Giorgi, 11, and David, 13, lived was closed two months ago at the government’s orders and they moved into the family of Ketevan Chkheidze in Kutaisi.

This is following a government announcement in May that it wants children to be raised in an “environment close to that of a family”, which was provoked by a severely critical report by the country’s human rights ombudsman.

More than 500 families have accepted children. Of the 5,000 children that were living in state accommodation, just 900 are awaiting foster families or an alternative family-type arrangement.

Chkheidze said she registered with the Agency of Social Services at her own initiative and signed a contract for three months, for which she receives 450 laris (270US dollars) a month for each child.

However, she said this money is not nearly enough to pay for everything the children need, and is not sure whether she will renew her contract when the three months are up.

“The children could not talk properly, but we have corrected that. They have got used to reading, improved their maths knowledge, but there’s still a lot to do. However, the money we get is not enough. After food there is nothing, and the children need decent clothes,” Chkheidze said.

“Giorgi has a talent for dancing, and I want to take him to a dance group, but that also costs money. They need a lot, and 450 laris is just enough for food.”

The instructions issued to foster families make clear that they are not supposed to just feed the children.

They specify “a minimum of three meals a day, one of which is made of three components, instruction in domestic habits, improvement of their academic progress, activities to fill their free time, and if necessary, the provision of psychological assistance”.

The head of the social services agency Irakli Nadareishvili said the reform would allow children who would previously have lived only in institutions to grow up in families.

“The number of children’s homes has already dropped from 46 to 19. We think that children will only win from this reform,” he said.

“This is not adoption and it’s not appointing guardians. The children keep their surnames, and the foster parent does not get the rights of a guardian. We settle those children in these families when we were not able to return them to their biological families and no one wants to adopt them. The foster parents receive 450 laris a months from the state for each child, which covers expenses and salary. A slightly bigger sum is paid for disabled children, 600 laris.”

Ketevan Pkhakadze, a children’s psychologist, welcomed the general idea of the reform but said it had been pushed through far too quickly.

“I think the process was not systematic enough - it was spontaneous and rushed. In the first place, the state should worry about biological parents, so a mother does not reject her children because she can’t afford them. If the state gave these 600 laris to mothers, then only a very small number would be left without their mothers,” she said.

“The abolition of children’s homes is the right thing to do. But the process is taking just two years, which creates problems. There is not time to assess the foster families correctly. When all children’s homes will be shut, the state will not have another option than to use all the foster families registered in the database.”

She said that the short-term contracts signed with the foster families meant that children could have to regularly move from place to place, which would harm their psychological development.

Chkheidze, who took in Giorgi and David, feels this danger as well. She said the only thing currently stopping her from cancelling the contract is that it could harm the children.

Every Child, an international charity that helps abandoned children, has been helping find and prepare foster parents. Andro Dadiani, the charity’s head in Georgia, said the problem will require more than just a simple solution.

“In the first place, the state needs to help biological parents, so they can get onto their feet and fulfil their parental obligations. The problem will be resolved when Georgia has many forms of guardianship for children,” he said.

The hurried start to the reform was provoked by the publication of a report in April by the office of the National Defender, Georgia’s human rights ombudsman, based on monitoring of 16 children’s homes.

According to the report, the children’s homes contained “conditions inappropriate for the children’s development and a harmful environment for their health”. The report also detailed cases of discrimination, the use of child labour, problems with inadequate food, the lack of psychological care, and also cases of violence against the children from their carers.

The authorities said that showed how the reforms were necessary and Andria Urushadze, minister of labour, health and social security, did not agree that they were hurried. He said the former employees of children’s homes would be retrained as social workers, or as hosts of family-type accommodation.

Natia Kuprashvili is executive director of the Georgian Association of Regional Broadcasters.

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