Saturday, March 1, 2008

Russia (3)
The House of the Child

The House of the Child was one of the most disturbing places that I experienced while in Russia. It was a large building in Moscow that housed and educated youth who had no parental support. One of workers at the institution said that the parents of many of the children simply refused to take them home. Other parents were in prison or had lost their parental rights. Some children came in from maternity homes.

There were 100 children at The House of the Child. They ranged in age from birth to four or five years of age. If they were not adopted by age five, they were transferred into facilities for older youth. Our guides told us that there were 25 facilities like this one in Moscow.

The entire operation was similar to an American group home. The children lived on the premises, and it was staffed twenty-four hours a day with staff members working twelve-hour shifts. The curriculum was, according to staff, individualized to meet the needs of each child. All teachers were graduates of teacher training colleges. Children were placed in groups of sixteen, and each group had two educators and a nurse.

Before the trip I had done some reading on the importance of bonding and attachment, especially bonding between mother and child. I had also read a story in a popular magazine about a family who had adopted a two-year-old boy from Russia. The child had been fine for a couple of years, but then began acting out toward his adoptive mother. Although there had been several attempts to provide psychological assistance to the family, the mother eventually murdered the child. The prevalent theory on the child’s behavior toward the mother, which was extreme, was that he had been raised in relative isolation in an orphanage for his first two years, with minimal human contact. The article’s author stated that infants in Russian orphanages were often kept in tight swaddling by themselves and only had contact with adults for physical necessities such as feeding, bathing, and diaper changes, and even at those times orphanage staff did not show affection to the infants. The young boy had missed the crucial experience of bonding with an adult, especially a nurturing female, during his infancy, and he consequently could not form an attachment to his adoptive mother. She, in turn, had wanted a child desperately enough to adopt from overseas, and could not cope with the fact that he rejected her.

We went upstairs to see the bays where the children slept. We were also shown a kitchen where some of the kids were learning to help with the cooking. But the image that sticks with me most clearly was the nursery. We were allowed to step into a large bay with fifteen or more bassinettes, each containing a tightly swaddled infant. Most were quiet, but many of those were awake just staring into space. There was no interaction occurring between the staff and the babies. Later, one of the administrators at the orphanage said matter-of-factly, “All of our children are mentally retarded.” Small wonder!

Adoption was a very controversial topic in Russia in the early 1990’s. The Soviet System had fallen, and the Russian government was still struggling to define itself. There was a strong international demand for babies, particularly Caucasians. Having Russian children adopted out of the country was a direct affront to Russian pride, so the government was beginning to create obstacles to the process. The result was that by the time all of the various bureaucracies were satisfied, the infants would be two-years-old or older - and already missed the critical period where they needed to be bonding with adults.

The workers at this facility told us that their children were being adopted by Swedes, Italians, and especially Americans. All potential adoptions had to be cleared through Central Adoptions in Moscow.

The House of the Child was a sad experience. The children were living in a place that looked and felt like an institution. There was little warmth and love in evidence, especially with the infants. Fortunately, our next stop of the day would go a long way toward restoring my waning faith in humanity.

Coming Next: The 24th Hostel for Orphan Children


Anonymous said...

God that's sad.

Pa Rock's Ramble said...

It was unbelievably sad. It could have been called "The House of No
Hope." For an enlightened view of how to work with orphans and throw-away kids, please read "Russia (4) The 24th Hostel for Orphan Children." It was a much better place for kids!