Russian SOS Children's Villages and Deinstitutionalisation Reform: Balancing between Institutional and Family Care
The Journal of Social Policy Studies
Elena Bogdanova – PhD (Kandidat Nauk) in Sociology, Research Fellow, Centre for Independent Social Research; Visiting Lecturer, University of Eastern Finland, European University at St. Petersburg, Russian Federation. Email: email@example.com This article examines how Russian SOS Villages are undergoing foster reform, which prescribes a transition from institutional care for children deprived of parental care to family care model. The article analyses the problems and transformations
... rienced by SOS Villages, outlining the aims, instruments, and priorities of the reform. Empirically, the article is based on qualitative investigation of two Russian SOS Villages. Officially, SOS villages have the status of non-state children's homes. However, they were originally conceptualised as a means to implement family care by specially arranged SOS families (headed by SOS mothers). Comparing the activities of SOS Villages with the theoretical concepts of development, resilience, and attachment shows that children raised in SOS Villages avoid the typical problems associated with institutional care. SOS families provide favourable conditions for socialisation, protection, overcoming of social isolation, while maintaining sustainable contact with a significant adult. The normative context created by Decree 481, which changed the status of children's homes, alongside innovations in family policy and the general upsurge of traditionalist discourse, has made SOS Villages vulnerable. As a result, they are forced to protect both forms of their existence: institutional and family. Despite their conceptual adherence to the goals of the reform, in the eyes of the state the SOS Villages remain institutional entities targeted for closure or transformation into temporary residences for children. My research shows that under these new conditions SOS Villages have developed various strategies of involuntary mimicry. The most significant is the re-registration of SOS families as foster families. This helps keep children with their SOS families but significantly increases the level of responsibility and risks for SOS mothers. SOS Villages have also developed new activities, which may be useful in these new conditions. The establishment of consulting service platforms is one of these. The transformations taking place with the SOS Villages show that the reform is directed mainly, or solely, towards correcting the institutional level of the system. Due to multiple formal conflicts with newly emerging conditions, one of the most successful and experienced providers of family care for children without parental care has been left in a vulnerable position.