At end of May, Pärnu city chief children's protection specialist Irene Peterson gave birth to twins. A couple of days later, on Child Welfare Day, chancellor of justice honoured her as difference maker.
Why the honour? For years, the city of Pärnu finds new families for all kids left without parental care, never sending them to substitute homes.
Straight from the event, Irene was hospitalised again and father of the babies and fellow child protector Marko Truu was forced to travel back home with the twins. That’s why the delay with interview.
«I went to study social work due to my elder daughter born with Down Syndrome, to help my kid and cope with it myself,» recalls Irene, formerly employed at a bank. Though initially thinking about the handicapped, the attention afterwards turned to protecting children.
-How come there are no kids in children’s homes, in Pärnu?
That’s the work of all employed at this in Pärnu, since the beginning of 1990ieas. In Pärnu, the foster family system is 22 years old and for the third year city government employs a related specialist. In 1993, Valter Parve (initiator of foster family movement in Estonia – edit) entered the first contract for caring in family.
-You said Pärnu employs a separate foster-specialist. Unique for Estonia?
I’m not totally sure, but it’s not usual that’s true. The specialist’s task is to deal with children cared in families and finding families for children needing a new home. If these new families have trouble, they may always call our specialist and ask for help. They’ll try to figure something out.
-Child protectors are the terrible ones who snatch kids from families? That true?
There are the threatenings and even police says child protectors are feared more. We are not going about seeking a child to snatch. With such decisions, the need must really be glaring. We try to do everything prior to that for the kid to grow up in own family. It is the parents we have to deal with. I have told my workers we will not descend upon them when the parent is drunk. We will go when he/she is sober and we can talk about what to do otherwise and how to be a better parent.
-How many times have you had to decide that the kid needs to be removed?
I have not counted that, but I have never regretted a single decision. It has never gotten worse.
(Marko recalls the incident when he, while working in city government, had to take away these kids aged 3 and 1.5. «The parents were dead drunk and asleep. The kids yelled and resisted being dressed to go. We just wrapped them into blankets... Now, five years later, they are a joy to see. Back then, it was emotionally hard, but when you see the result, the kids smiles as she runs to meet you, is well developed and feels close with the caretaker family, it’s good to see.»)
-How do you determine that a new family is good for a kid?
A family background test helps. PRIDE-training is also required. Better get the families prepared, to have no regrets later. Ideally, the caregivers would be willing to afterwards act as guardians or even adopt the kids. To develop the real parent-kid relationship.
-With multiple children born into problem families, are you trying to have then raised in the same new family?
We need to see about the age difference. If the first ones have already grown and have no bond to the newborn, placing them together does not make much sense. Perhaps, it is better for the little one to be the first kid in some family.
Substitute homes in Estonia
39, for children and youths
Places totalling 1,259, of these 1,036 filled at end of 2014
State subsidies for substitute-caring of children
€1,230 a month for a child 3 years old and younger
€795 a month for those who are older
For foster homes, €240 a month (plus child benefit)
For adoption, a one-off benefit of €320, from there on the usual child benefit
Source: social ministry