Parovoziki (Russia)

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Parovoziki đŸ‡·đŸ‡ș
Russia map.png
Location: Russia
Definition: Slang for foster or adopted siblings; practices of rule-following in child placement or adoption of siblings that prevent foster families from separating the grou
Keywords: Russia – FSU – Care – Kinship – Family – Orphan – Childhood
Clusters: Informal welfare – Playing the letter of the rules against their spirit
Author: Ekaterina Pereprosova
Affiliation: Centre de recherche sur les liens sociaux, Université Paris Descartes, France

By Ekaterina Pereprosova, Centre de recherche sur les liens sociaux, Université Paris Descartes, France

The term parovoziki, literally ‘little trains’ in Russian, refers to the practices around the norm for adopting siblings which prevents them from being separated when placed with foster parents. The term was coined in 2008 when fostering began to be promoted as a form of orphan care as well as introduced into the Family Code of Russia by the articles 145, 152, 153 of the Federal Decree No 49. The size of the sibling group to be placed with foster parents depends on their fostering experience, their living conditions and economic resources. Up to two children can be placed with a first-time foster family; while more experienced, ‘professional’, candidates can foster three or more children. Thus, the term appears primarily at the application stage, when a willing foster family contacts the local childcare authorities or meets the child selected from the local or federal database of orphans. Should this child have siblings, the placement becomes contingent on their inseparability. The term is also used to denote a situation whereby the family which fosters a child has priority in fostering the child’s siblings, should they become orphans at a later stage. This is ordinarily a result of the decision by the social services to remove the siblings, for example children born to mothers with limited parental rights, from their biological family. In this case, the family fostering the newborn's siblings is solicited by the social services for placement before other candidates. Despite their right to decline this request, this kind of additional placement is common.

The norm of placing siblings within the same family is not, however, set in stone. Social workers and childcare authorities retain some room for manoeuvre and can decide to revoke a parovoziki placement, if they assess this to be in ‘the best interest of the child’ (as stipulated by the art. 145 of the decree). If they regard the adaptation of the newly-fostered sibling to the foster family as unsatisfactory, or detrimental for other siblings, they can separate them and place the foster candidate with another foster family, or put siblings into different groups in the public residential institution. The policy of inseparability of siblings, however flexible, is nevertheless an important departure from practices in state residential institutions that has placed children in groups according to their age and regardless of their family ties.

Fostering parovoziki groups is a beneficial outcome of the deinstitutionalization of public policies, and it is informed by observing the detrimental effects on child socialization in ‘total institutions’ (Goffman 1961) of the Soviet orphanages. The parovoziki placements are part of a wider effort to create a family-like environment by reorganizing residential institutions into smaller-group homes with fixed educators and by promoting family-based forms of care. Following the President Dmitry Medvedev's call in 2010 to have ‘no un-adopted children’ in Russia (Kulmala, Rasell and Chernova 2017), fostering and adoption became social policy priorities, and their increase became the principal measure of effectiveness of deinstitutionalization (Kulmala 2017). By law, foster and adoptive families are entitled to social guarantees as well as various financial and property benefits, such as property grants for fostering several children and maternity capital grants (masterinsky kapital) for adopting a child as a second child of the family. As a consequence, the increasing rates of family-based forms of care over the past decade changed the profile of children in institutional care. Among children in institutional care, 42 percent have a physical disability and 67 percent a psychological disability, according to an analysis of the official statistics for 2015 (Biryukova and Sinyavskaya 2017). 91 percent of the children in institutional care are more than six years old: 69 percent are between seven and fifteen years and 21 percent are older than sixteen (ibid.). Siblings constitute 53 percent of all children in institutional care, according to the report published by the Russian charity fund Nuzhna Pomosch (Tinchurin et al. 2018). This number suggests that parovoziki siblings may be a disadvantage in fostering and adoption (Semya, Zaitsev and Zaitseva 2016, Biryukova and Sinyavskaya 2017). The very existence of the parovoziki slang word indicates the pervasiveness of the phenomenon of siblings in need of a foster home in the childcare domain.

To improve the placement of children for whom entering the family-based care has been more difficult, various charity funds and non-profit organizations organizing foster training that focuses on the specific issues encountered in fostering teenagers, siblings and children with disabilities: behavioural problems, communication with the biological family, health issues. Some organisations offer psychological support and monitor processes of attachment and kinship construction. The organisations may also offer intervention in critical situations, for example to prevent a child being removed from the foster home and being turned back to the residential institution.

Several regional development programs also address this problem and encourage placing several children at a time, most often siblings, children with disabilities and children over ten years old. Such programs are aimed at improving the living conditions of foster families. A state pilot project the Moscow region, for example, grants a flat to the candidates willing to foster five children at once: three of whom must be over ten years old or have a disability. However, this programme is highly criticised by several non-profit organisations that point out the lack of adequate qualification of foster parents willing to fulfil the project requirements. Some projects propose building villages for foster families, such as the Smart School project (Umnaja Shkola) in the Irkutsk region, an educational complex within a village, intended to house 30 foster families and 150 foster children, around 15 percent of the Smart School’s students. Due to the context-bound nature of the problem, child placement projects remain rather local, with parovoziki, children with disabilities and teenagers still presenting a major challenge. Facing this issue, childcare authorities and expert community suggest an amendment to the decree No 423 to allow a separated placement of the siblings that did not have a common upbringing. By prioritizing the wellbeing of a single individual over the imperative to maintain a sibling group, this proposal brings to light the importance of the child's social ties constructed in institutional and foster family placements, as well as the socialization contexts themselves.


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