Sa, 28.01.2023
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«Why aren't we fit for foster family?»

Anneli Ammas
, reporter
«Why aren't we fit for foster family?»
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Estonia has over 2,800 children not living with biological parents. Of these, more than a thousand dwell in replacement homes. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of families who would wish to adopt or care for these children, but the coming together of puzzle pieces is often quite a happenstance. 

«We know of incidents where children ended up in families thru connections, so to speak – they have recourse to a children protection worker they know, a kid is found and taken to a family insufficiently prepared,» said family researcher Viiu Orgmets, speaking out of experience.

«As they got ready to adopt the child several years later, I saw the family have relations with which the child could never have been given there,» she recalls a case.

These past weeks, media has been featuring stories about families who would wish to take in children and fail to understand why they are denied. A system exists, as if; in the laws, it has been explicitly been described how children are adopted and how children are given into families to be cared for. For the most part, adoption does go after definite rules; with caregiver families, a lot depends on the parish or town practices and often on what the sole children protector decides, as well as on connections.

Family researchers say that with adoption and caring for children, the families concerned should undergo thorough examination «before and after». According to Ms Orgmets and her colleague Maie Salum say that what matters most is caring relations within a family, as well as how they get along with grandparents and friends.

«These are broken children with an extraordinarily deep need for affection,» said Ms Salum. «A kid needs nothing more than a loving mother, a loving father, and parents who love each other – all else comes with such relationships,» summarised the family researcher.

And this, affirm Ms Salum and Ms Orgmets, is the main question to be answered as potential families are searched, and why the answer at times may be «no». Or perhaps the family is counselled on how to improve their family relations to then later be answered «yes».

Wanted: a fitting family

An umbrella organisation for foster families, MTÜ Igale Lapsele Pere has gotten many a message about support and care families sought for children.

«10 years old needs a family!»

«Five Russian-speaking children in Ida-Virumaa need foster families outside of Ida-Virumaa. A girl of 6, mother HIV-positive, the child is currently, at children’s home; two boys aged 6; a boy aged 5; a girl aged 9.»

The list would go on and on. How many of these have found a place, we know not. Each year, hundreds of children are separated from families in Estonia. Many end up in replacement homes, for some new safe families are found among relatives, some go back home, some find support or care families, and about fifty get adopted.

Daily, dozens of child protectors take the tough decisions determining the destiny of children. The surest way to find a safe home is finding one among the 33 replacement homes or seeking a new family which could be at the other end of Estonia. The family researchers know of a recent case of a good teenager in a replacement home could have landed a home at Estonia’s opposite end but the local child protectors found that would have been too long a distance for the twice-a-year visits.  

The options

With EU money, these past years the state has built 46 new family houses for children’s homes with places for 325 kids. All in all, children’s homes have room for 1,273 children; at the start of this year 1,021 were filled.

Signe Riisalo of social ministry said it was impossible to find a new and fitting family for all children. «There are very many children with handicaps, with psychic and behaviour disorders with whom families are not coping. For them, replacement homes are the only variant,» she said.

Citing a Swedish study, Ms Riisalo said that in adult life the adopted children do best, but even those who were raised in replacement homes fare better than those from care families. For Estonia, such data is missing.

In a year, the social ministry wants to create a pan-Estonian register of adopters and another for care families in two years; the operations of both would be guided by a social security board’s child protection unit.

As underlined by Ms Salum and Ms Orgmets, affection is vital for the children. They cite examples of the little ones literally clinging to their mothers and never letting go.

«Therefore, it is vital for there also to be the father, caring grandparents, friends,» said Ms Salum to would-be foster parents.

The welcome widom

While volunteer help abounds to step in and assist, the picture is uneven and at times misunderstanding occurs. It does happen that people who see themselves as totally normal are at loss for not being trusted with children. After quality help from experienced family researchers, many have been assured of importance of background check and tasted its good fruit.   

As admitted by a married couple now raising an adopted child: «Let’s be honest: it is total strangers at the beginning, and getting use to takes time.» And, along the way, help from mentors, psychologists and even a psychiatrist has been welcome indeed.  

At that, experts interviewed agree: while requirements for families are important, more important is the attitude towards children in the families concerned – children need to arrive in families for life i.e. till they grow up. Just as any kid who is born to their natural Mom and Dad.