Who actually are the children growing up in the children’s homes?
How did they come to be in the children’s homes? Who are they? Are they orphans, for whom staying in a children’s home is their last chance? How do they get on in there? What are their wishes and dreams?
We discovered that information about children from orphanages is very limited amongst the general public and the information that is circulating is often very distorted. Firstly, it is important to say that the children in the orphanages are not badly off, without question they are better there than in a dysfunctional family, from which they were, on the basis of the recommendations of social workers and the decision of the courts, removed and put into the children’s home.
Most of the children, even though often very sporadically, are still in contact with their biological families.
Children who have been orphaned by both parents are very rare in the children’s homes. The homes are completely dominated by children who still have either one or both parents, but who are either incapable of or do not wish to take care of the child and are unable to provide him with neither behavioural and emotional support, nor with financial or material support. In some cases the parents even terrorise or sexually abuse the child. If it is not possible for another family member, for example the grandparents, aunts or uncles to step into the parental role, and there is no possibility of alternative family care like adoption or foster care, then comes the time when the state intervenes and offers the solution of institutional care.
Only children are as rare as gold dust in the orphanages. It is not exceptional for there to be between 6 to 10 children from one sibling group and don’t make the mistake of thinking that we are only talking about children of the Roma nationality!
The children concerned mostly don’t spend their whole childhoods in the children’s homes. Most children arrive at the orphanages at an older age and the age of arrival at the homes is, in fact, continually rising.
Most of the children who arrive at the orphanages do not look at first glance any different from their peers! They go to normal schools, they are interested in similar things, and they have the same interests, desires and naïve ideas about life consistent with their age group. They try in every way to achieve the same things as their peers. But deep within themselves they carry, to different degrees, everything that they have already been through in their short lives.
Behind every individual child there is a very serious, human story. These stories are not happy ones. It is hard to believe that in each case the guilty parties are those who should have loved them, protected and taken care of them…
Unfortunately, many of the children often arrive from their biological families with a very distorted view of how to behave and with difficult attitudes. They have not experienced from their homes how a normal family functions, they have not made any stable emotional relationships; normal, everyday ways of communication between family members are unknown to them. All this makes the following already complicated, entry into their independent adult life that much harder.
Even though the staff of the children’s homes try, within their capabilities, to prepare the children for their exit from these homes, the start of their independent lives for these young people remains an extremely complicated time and the hardest test for them so far. It is necessary to work on preparing the children for this moment already during the time they are living in the orphanages.
These children have been through a childhood that absolutely cannot be considered to have been trouble-free and they have a very uncertain future ahead of them. At the time of leaving the home they are officially considered to be grown-ups, but they are, in fact, still children. They have no solid foundation to their lives, they have no experience or example of a functioning family life, they have nowhere to go, they only have themselves to rely upon. According to the law, they can receive a maximum amount of 15 000 crowns for their new beginning!
Can you imagine your children in their situation?
What is it really like in the children’s homes?
The level of almost all of the institutes would surprise the uninformed person. The children do not live together in large rooms as we have seen, for example, in old films. The children live in so-called “family groups”, of up to a maximum of eight members. The family group contains children of both sexes and various ages and the emphasis is on preserving existing sibling groups. Every “small family” lives in a separate unit, often even outside the grounds of the children’s home, which is made up of a communal living area, a kitchen with dining room, provided with appliances and has the same amount of bedrooms as there are children. So you could say it was a flat of 4/5 +1. Some of the small families live in standard flats inbuilt into the main building. A designated member of staff takes care of each little family, who helps bring up and take care of the children and often looks after them as if they were their own.
The family group takes care of itself, on the whole, as an independent unit, which it manages within a given budget. The children themselves, sometimes with the help of their ‘aunts’, clean and tidy, wash the clothes and to a lesser or larger degree provide their own food with each group.
In all children’s homes the children of each family group at least partly share the shopping and cooking. Sometimes the groups only cook at the weekends, sometimes every evening; in some of the homes they have actually closed the common dining rooms. The overwhelming majority of children are jointly involved with the shopping.
Problems occur in the smaller homes in the smaller towns, where, due to the lack of competition, the prices in the local shops are substantially higher than in the shopping centres of the larger towns. In these cases the orphanages often solve this economical problem by doing their shopping in bulk in the city supermarkets.
The equipment provided in each children’ s home is of a very good level, even if, of course, it varies a little in each home. Some homes have been completely renovated, fitted with new furniture and fittings of a very high standard. In some it is noticeable that time has taken it’s toll on the equipment and furniture. This depends mainly on the financial support of the founders of the children’s homes, who are either the local authorities or in some cases the sponsors of the individual orphanages.
Generally you could say that the children are two to a room and sometimes, when there are more children together (particularly when it concerns sibling groups), older children often have at their disposal their own room. The children’s homes with which we have established a working relationship have at their disposal of all the family units a computer(s) and the ability to connect to the internet.
The paradoxical reality is that the children in the homes are so well looked after that it doesn’t make their entry into adulthood any easier. When they leave the home they are unable to achieve the material standards to which they have been used, and which they take for granted. Even though, during their stay in the orphanage, they have shared the everyday chores such as preparing the food, shopping, washing and cleaning, they have not had the responsibility of organising or deciding on anything and therefore have been living as though in a “golden cage”. We accept that that is how most children live even in ordinary families, but those children, even though they are not aware of it, learn how to handle many situations by copying their parents who are there for them and are even there to help when the child becomes more independent with both the necessary advice and financial support.
The children who leave the orphanages receive no supervision or help whatsoever and have only themselves to rely on. What are for us normal everyday matters and activities become for them almost insurmountable challenges.
Things that may really surprise you are that…
These are normally older children who are already able to understand that their own parents are not able to take care of them, provide them with housing, clothing, food or education and that they will be better off where these basic necessities will be provided.
Not all children dream of becoming a member of a family other than their own. Older children often have no interest of a permanent placing in a foster family and for them the children’s home, this “foster home”, is a more acceptable alternative.
If the child is still studying he/she can remain in the children’s home until the age of 26. Luckily, the tendency to support these children in their studies is rising. Each year that they remain under the wing of the orphanage is a bonus. There is a big difference between a young person setting off in life at 18 or at 26 years of age, or even better a little bit later still.
Adult occupants of the orphanages have the chance to prepare for their independent life in the so-called Starter flats, which are mainly not in the grounds of the children’s home, but in normal housing in which they themselves manage their given finances under the partial guidance of a member of staff from the home. In the case of some kind of failure they are still under a protective wing and it doesn’t reach the point of some sort of terrible disaster.