Family Strengthening in Russia
32-year-old Elena lives in a three-room communal apartment in St. Petersburg and she is one of the beneficiaries of SOS Children's Villages Russia's family strengthening programme "Family - mother and me".
Living in a communal apartment means that she has one room for her family and shares the kitchen, WC and bathroom with two other families. "We have been in the queue for getting the new apartment for 25 years now," she says. "We have turned to every possible institution, including president Putin, but with no luck. For eleven years we have been on the 113th position in the line."
On approximately 20 square meters, four people are living, Elena, her mother, brother and son. "My mother is an invalid, my son has asthma, so I cannot work properly - I work for one month and then stay at home with my son for two months," she tells, adding that she also does not get subsidies for her child as she has not worked officially. "The illnesses started after a vaccination when Dima was only eight-month-old. Nobody employs me if I can't work consistently," she tells, adding that at the moment she has found a work which satisfies her.
Elena and her family are one of the beneficiaries of the family strengthening programme "Family - mother and me" in St. Petersburg. At first, she came to SOS Children's Villages to find help for the living space problem but soon the co-workers realised there is also a health problem, which is a direct effect of Elena's divorce.
Restore balance and lawyer's help
The programme's psychologists have set the target for the family - to restore Dima's emotional balance and a lawyer helps to solve the living space problem.
"Life has become more interesting after joining the programme; we get tickets to theatres or excursions," tells Elena and adds that she was surprised by the programme co-worker's positive approach.
"It's so good when people are interested in your problems and it's even better when you get advice. I am so glad I heard about this programme. Honestly, I don't have much hope that there will be a solution for our apartment problem but I have started writing letters to welfare institutions again, after I got consultations from the lawyer."
"When you send a general letter you also get a general answer, that there is nothing do to. But if you send the letter with the help of a lawyer you can include paragraphs from the law and then they cannot send you some general answer," she explains the advantages of being involved in the programme.
Case to case approach
The programme in the Krasnogvardeisky district started in November 2007 and at by March the next year, there were eleven families and 21 children involved.
"Our target groups are single-headed families and we assess each family individually, we take it case by case, setting clear objectives on the change we want to make for this family," says Igor Georgi, the national family strengthening programme advisor.
"This is a revolutionary approach in Russia - at the moment the governmental social services are too much focused on the services they provide rather than the real needs of a family and thus take the whole process too formally. We are trying to be more case to case and to find the best possible way for the family to develop."
"There are four main areas where we are trying to find solutions: living space, regular income, education, health - so that a family could develop and fulfil some goals."
According to Georgi, the programme is acting as a mediator, who brings the people in need and the governmental services together. "The needed services exist, but the problem is that the people do not know about them and therefore cannot use them," says Georgi.
The SOS family strengthening programme finds the families through schools, nurseries, child policlinics and after that, the word spreads mouth to mouth. "I am surprised that so many people already know about us," says Georgi and emphasizes the importance of different approaches than governmental services.
"As Elena said, even listening about the problems can help. I think there are also possibilities how to help Elena and her family."
New programmes to come
In 2006, the first prevention project in Russia started in Murmansk. Target groups are pregnant women and mothers with children up to three years of age. In St. Petersburg two family strengthening programmes started at the end of 2007.
In the Krasnogvardeisky district "Family - mother and me" and in the Admiraliteitsky district "Ecology of the Family", which is aimed at families where one or both parents have alcohol problems.
"In 2008 we are planning to start five more programmes, which could be described as "Together with mother". The programmes will be located in Kandalaksha, Pskov, Vologda, Cherepovets and in St. Petersburg. The latter will be concentrating on "mothers with AIDS/HIV," tells Georgi.
"SOS Children's Villages Russia has already gained some positive experience with early prevention approach as the first programme aiming to prevent mothers abandoning their children at birth started in 2006," tells Georgi. "Last year we decided to spread our knowledge to other regions as we work with a problem common in the whole country - according to latest national researches about 60% of all orphans in Russia were abandoned at hospitals right after birth."
"Local data also confirms the national trends. For example, in 2006 there were 20 and the year after 30 abandonments in the city of Cherepovets. In 2007 the government made huge efforts to stop the abandonment by giving financial support."