In November 2017, the Romania Without Orphans Alliance (ARFO) published its annual report on the condition of children living in Romania’s child welfare system. An English-language version came out in January.
The 24-page report—beautifully designed with photos, charts, data, and analysis—provides a devastating look at the state’s care for parentless children. We’re quite proud of this body of work as a reflection on ARFO, which we helped found, and which our supporters have helped fund.
Here are eight quick takeaways from the report;
1. Child abandonment is an ongoing and serious problem.
Although Romania’s population is declining, the number of children entering its child welfare system has stayed steady at around 10,000 per year. ARFO uses government data to show that it’s not just poor areas driving this problem. The capital counties of Bucharest-Ilfov made the top-10 list for both numbers of children in the system and for percentage of children in institutions. One sector of Bucharest had an alarming 59% of children in its system housed in institutions.
2. Most children who enter the system remain there until adulthood.
Of the 10,000 children abandoned each year, around 6,000 will stay in state care. “On paper, Romania’s Child Protection System offers a child temporary intervention until they are reintegrated into their biological family, or placed in an adoptive family,” ARFO president Liviu Mihaileanu writes. “In reality, this ‘temporary intervention’ usually lasts until they become an adult.”
3. Adoptions are all too rare.
A chart from the ARFO report shows the decline in adoption.
In 2016, only 788 children were adopted in Romania—a mere 1.3% of children in the system. This was the second-lowest number on record since at least 2000, but numbers are abysmal across the board. ARFO cites an anti-adoption bias from many state workers, who look askance at the practice of putting children in legal placement with families who want to adopt them.
4. Even when families are available, the state keeps children in orphanages.
State workers often view children in orphanages as “solved cases,” with no further intervention or family placement needed. Sometimes they actively fight the removal of children from institutions. The ARFO report contains a firsthand account from one NGO worker who requested to take a child from an orphanage into placement. Not only was she denied, but her NGO’s work at the orphanage was threatened.
A 2016 law requires the government to declare abandoned children legally adoptable after 6-12 months, depending on circumstances. Yet this law is simply being ignored by case managers. Over a year later, only 1.5% of the children in Romania’s institutions have been declared adoptable.
Adoptability stats from the ARFO report. The number of adoptable children in institutions is especially troubling, given how clearly institutionalization is proven to harm children.
“Case managers usually work for the same local government agency that is receiving funds to house the children,” ARFO notes. “Therefore, one may conclude that such a practice is intentional to secure staff and funding.” ARFO calls for legal sanctions against workers who fail to carry out the law, and who misinform and intimidate families seeking to remove children from institutions.
5. Children suffer from moves within the system.
ARFO decries the trauma of moving children in state care from place to place. They are especially concerned about the practice of placing children in foster families until age 3, then moving them to orphanages. Under Romanian law, no child under 3 may be placed in an institution, so the government often “rotates out” children when they get older. ARFO recommends a ban on moving a child from family care to an institution, except in exceptional circumstances.
6. The state has no minimum standards governing family placement.
The government was supposed to publish standards in 2012 for family placement, the practice where children are placed with an unpaid foster family or birth relatives. Five years later, there are still no standards. Failing to evaluate and oversee children placed with birth relatives is dangerously negligent. ARFO recommends that the state create minimum standards as quickly as possible.
7. The state holds charities to strict standards its own agencies don’t meet.
The report notes: “While NGOs are not permitted to function in Romania without a license, only 17% of public social services are licensed. The rest function without meeting the minimum standards that all NGOs must meet to provide the same services.” ARFO decries the state’s monopoly over child welfare, where NGOs’ contracts can be canceled at will. The report calls for greater cooperation between the state and charities.
8. A number of positive developments have laid the groundwork for change.
It’s not all bad news. First, the number of families certified to adopt is rising (currently over 2,600 families), indicating a growing interest in adoption. Second, the state has developed a list of “hard-to-place” children, allowing prospective families to view their profiles, which humanizes the process and encourages adoption of hard-to-place children. Third, the growing number of adoptions to Romanians abroad could provide the foundation for re-opening intercountry adoption. With real reforms, Romania could do much better for its children.
Alex was only eighteen years of age when he made his first trip to Romania to speak to the Parliament to advocate for the reopening of International Adoptions from Romania.
When Romanian orphan Alex Kuch was adopted at age two, his new family was told he would never finish high school or lead a normal life.
This week, Alex finished his final semester of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics and International Relations with a minor in Sociology at the University of Auckland.
Now 23-years-old, Alex is an established children’s rights advocate and is invited to speak around the world. Next month, he will co-present research into the experiences of adoptees at a major international conference in Canada.
“My parents weren’t going to let a prediction determine who I was going to become,” Alex says. “While never pushing me, they always encouraged me to give my best in everything I did. My family is really proud, especially as I’m the first person in my family to go to university. I’m really looking forward to using my degree in the real world.”
His research, completed with Dr Rhoda Scherman from AUT, analyses the stories of other adoptees shared on the New Zealand-based I’m Adopted website.
“The stories have helped us to pull together the common themes of what adopted children go through. It’s valuable knowledge for agencies and families, for example knowing when to intervene or what to expect, and to provide better support.”
Alex was adopted in 1997 from an orphanage in Cluj- Napoca, Romania by a German couple. He also has a younger brother adopted by the same family. The family moved to New Zealand in 2006.
At the time of his adoption, a German psychologist advised Alex’s family that the emotional damage from spending his formative years in an orphanage meant he would never lead a normal life, complete high school, or have the social skills to integrate into society.
“The conditions weren’t the greatest. My parents were told that I had started to rock backwards and forward due to a lack of emotional and physical stimulation and I could not look people directly in the eyes.”
Alex received specialist support such as speech and fine motor therapy, and against all odds, has now completed high school and university.
“It was challenging, however the University of Auckland has been very supportive. I had a writer for exams as I still have some fine motor challenges. Also many of my assignments were tailored to reflect my advocacy work.”
Alex is passionate about lobbying the Romanian Government to re-open international adoptions, which were closed in 2001.
In an unusual twist, Alex met his birth mother on live television during a lobbying trip to his birth country. While speaking on a talk show about his adoption experience, producers blindsided him by bringing his birth mother and half siblings onto the stage.
Alex is now concentrating on his long-term aspiration is to establish a children’s rights consultancy that collaborates with different sectors to have a positive impact on the wellbeing of children.
The degree of declaration of adoptability did not increase at all one year after the revised law on adoption was implemented, keeping it below 6% of the number of children in the system.
In March 2016, there were 57,581 children who had been abandoned by their families and entered the child protection system.
This report is the result of an analysis of the situation of abandoned children in the child protection system, carried out by the Romania Without Orphans Alliance.
The report was made public at the start of the A.R.F.O Summit, held in Bucharest, November 2017.
The report shows that the declaration of adoption for children where there is no possibility of being reunited with their biological families, is hampered by over exaggerated legislation and poor implementation of legislation.
The very small number, only 1.5% of children being adopted, highlights a worrying practise to keep children in institutions.
Another aspect highlighted by the report is that, whilst private organisations are not allowed to provide services unless they are licensed, 83% of public services do not have a license and do not meet mandatory minimum standards.
Romania’s institutions have a history of neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse which still continues to this day and causes emotional, physical, and mental scars.
Institutionalized care, according to Dr. Victor Groza, the Grace F. Brody Professor of Parent-Child Studies at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, causes problems with developmental, physical, psychological, social and brain health. Dr. Groza stated, “The regimentation and ritualization of institutional life do not provide children with the quality of life, or the experiences they need to be healthy, happy, fully functioning adults.” They are also unable to form strong and lasting relationships with adults, leading to severe problems with socialization, primarily building trust and lasting relationships amongst adults and children alike.
This article, kindly provided by Dr. Victor Groza, is an easy to follow guide to the risks inherent to children institutionalised at an early age. Dr. Groza has been developing social work education and promoting best practices in child welfare and domestic adoptions in Romania, since 1991.
Victor Groza; PhD,LISW-S Grace F. Brody Professor of Parent-Child Studies, Director; Child Welfare Fellows Program Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Sciences, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio.http://msass.case.edu/faculty/vgroza/ – Faculty website for further reading.
3,436 ADOPTABLE CHILDREN RECORDED IN ADOPTION REGISTER AT MARCH-END
3,436 adoptable children recorded in Adoption Register at March-endBY NINEOCLOCK
A total of 3,436 adoptable children were registered in the National Register for Adoption, at the end of March 2016, of whom 3,069 (89.32 percent) benefited from special protection measures in family type services and 367 (10.68 percent) benefited of special protection measures in residential type services, according to the statistics published by the Ministry of Labor, Family, Social Protection and Elderly People.
Also on 31 March 2016 there were 57,581 children in the adoption system with special protection, out of which 20,156 children (35 percent) benefited from special protection measures in residential type services (16,224 children in public residential type services, 3,932 children in private residential type services) and a number of 37,425 children (65 percent) benefited from special protection measures in family type services (18,815 children were in fostercare, 14,158 children were in the care of relatives up to grade IV included and 4,452 children were in the care of other families or persons.
The representatives of the Labor Ministry signals that, starting 1 January 2005, public services of social assistance created inside the city councils are the main in charge with the growth, which on 31 March 2016 offered services for 42.83 percent of the children that benefit from this sort of services, the accredited private bodies provide services for 19.65 percent and 37.52 percent are beneficiaries of prevention services provided by the Directorate General for Social Assistance and Child Protection.
On 31 March 2016 there were 1,135 public residential type services and 342 residential type services of accredited private bodies. These services include: classic or modular orphanages, apartments, family type houses, maternal centers, emergency reception centers, other services (the service for the development of independent life, day and night shelter).
From the total of 1,477 residential services, a number of 352 (public residential type services and and private residential services) were designed for children with disabilities. The number of children that benefited from a special protection measure in these services provided for children with disabilities was, at the end of March, 6,586 children, recording a decrease of 705 children compared to the same period of 2015.
On 31 March 2016, the Directorates for Social Assistance and Child Protection in every county/sector of Bucharest, the “Child Protection” departments counted 32,655 employees, 31 people more towards the end of the first quarter of last year, and 51 people more versus 31 December 2015.
In the total of 32,655 employees, 4,439 (13.59 percent) were hired in the DGASPC’s own structures, 12,016 (36.80 percent) were fostercare professionals, 12,398 (37.97 percent) were employed in residential type services and 3,802 (11.64 percent) were hired in daytime care services.
Current Concepts of Identity Outdated, by Alex Kuch
Adoption is a complex process and one of the most complex challenges around adoptions is the identity of an individual. Ideas around identity in adoptions have a variety of views, even international recognized institutions such a UNICEF and The United Nations have taken on views in which they suggest that especially identity is limited to the geographical place of birth of an individual, hence in the (Declaration of the Rights of the Child,1959). Hence those organizations as a whole chose to interpret all 10 articles, those children needing to stay in their country of birth. They view identity as a static concept, whereas identity is socially constructed and is formed by the individual and the interactions with others over time.
This socio – autobiography will analyse how concepts of identity especially the looking glass self, the Me and I and racializing and how social forces have shaped me to be the person I am now and it will investigate the sociological importance of the concepts.
Charles Horton came up in his paper (Cooley, 1902) with the concept of the self-looking glass. It contains three key concepts; one imagines how one appears to another person. I on a personal level can definitely relate to that, especially due to my Roma or informally known as Gypsy ethnicity, which gives me a darker skin tone. As a result of this I imagine that most people who see me the first time that due to my appearance will think that I am from one of the following countries, the Middle East, India, Mexico or Spain or other countries which are considered to be ofmy skin tone. This is supported in various latest researchers such as (Perkins, K, 2014) how first and second immigrants felt in the United States.
Also one imagines how others judge ones appearance. Everyone does this and especially people who are marginalised in society. This happens across cultures and times.
I personally have experienced how I imagined others would judge me, after having been on Romanian national TV and talking about my life’s story and forgiving my biological mother for abandoning me. I expected them to be shocked about my behaviour because I behaved in a way that was counter-culture. Studies (Tice, D, 1992) have shown that behaviour in public had greater- effect on how one imagines the self and the anticipation of further public encounters increased the internalization. This certainly was the case for me.
But I didn’t imagine that people would instead also find some form of comfort in my actions, especially those who had abandoned their children and given them to the orphanages, there were numerous instances where older people in the public expressed this to me. In research, it has been shown that how others are viewed and judged effects how they feel about that perceived judgment (Shrauger, J, 1979) & (Aken, M, 1996).
Also as a result of the perceived judgment it affects the way one feels about themselves, I certainly can say that I felt really overwhelmed at how the people of Romania judged me in such a positive way and to some degree even gave me celebrity/ saint status, such as people asking to speak to me in public and having a photograph taken with me. As mentioned above research confirms that the more public interaction and the anticipation of this increases the internalization hence it also increases the way one would feel about the perceived judgment (Tice, D, 1992)
These kinds of events don’t just happen to me as an individual but happen to other people as well that have been in similar situations, despite being influenced by different social forces and across different time periods.
The concept of the looking glass self-has enormous sociological importance, especially in my example how adoptees feel about themselves as a result of the perceived judgment of others, hence a very basic argument can be made that society should be informed about adoptions and how people especially should be spoken to for all parties involved and how it can affect and make the people feel. A very recent study (Eriksson, P, 2015) shows that adoptive parents are really satisfied with pre-adoption education and while adoption occurred and it is a very vital process.
George Herbert Mead in (Mead, G, 1982) came up with concepts of the Me and the I, The ‘I’ is a person’s independent part that operates before an individual is aware that there is the world outside of their own self. The ‘me’ is as a result of the influence of other people in society.
For me personally I started to be aware that there is the world outside my own self at the age of 4 years. Research (Bloch, H, 1990) shows that the age this happens at is 2 years but starts from the age the person is born until they are 5 years old. However (Cooley, 1902) argues that individuals imagine how their self-appearance is judged by others, but this clearly is not the case for children under the age of 2 but varys of course and they don’t imagine how their appearance is judged and hence don’t have a perceived feeling of this judgment. This can be clearly seen by young children because in general on their own they don’t judge one another and don’t feel judged. I personally can say that at the age before one is aware of the world outside their self. However after the age of 2 the Me in an individual as (Mead, G, 1982) states is a result of the influences of other people in society. I personally definitely can say that for myself I was more influenced by family and close friends the older I got. This is also confirmed by (Cooley, 1902) that, we imagine how others view, judge one’s appearance and, as a result have a perceived feeling about the judgment made on a person.
Racialization is a common practice and we all have experienced it and done it ourselves. (Matthewman, S, 2013) defines racialization as ‘The process through which ideas and beliefs about race, together with class and gender, shape social relationships; in other words the social construction of race.” Or (Matthewman, S, 2013) defines racialisation as, “A social process by which ‘a group is classified as a race and defined as a problem”
I have many times experienced racialization especially that people often judge where I am from on my physical appearance and people are really shocked when I tell them that I am from Europe and adopted from Romania by German parents. There are these differences in terms of race and ethnicity.
Inherited – Physical
Learned – Social
The above table shows some key differences between Race and Ethnicity.
An overall key feature is that ethnicity is fluid and dynamic; however a lot of international organisations argue that an international adoption (inter-country adoptions) damages the adoptee’s identity. However, a person’s identity doesn’t depend on the country of birth but one factor such as what he has learned growing up and a person’s identity keeps changing and developing during their life.
Even people can have multiple or even mix ethnicities hence I can call myself a Romanian, German, New Zealander (Kiwi) and until recently this year I wouldn’t consider Romania one of my ethnicities but dramatic events such as being confronted with my biological family but even more inspecting orphanages and mental institutions gave me greater insights into Romanian’s past and present and shaped my personal identity.
The concept of racializing has vast sociological importance because we all judge others on numerous factors, such as ethnicity, religious beliefs and appearance. As a result of this certain perceptions take prominence and give rise to power of people asserting themselves over others. An example of this for me was that when I was adopted, one uncle said “You are adopting Alex, how don’t you know that he will not become a thief/ criminal” that was racialization because I was from Romania and would be adopted, which had and still has a bad stigma in regards to crime. Despite having been myself to Romania numerous times in various parts, I have never experienced any crimes and been treated with the utmost respect.
Hence in summary identity is a complex concept especially in Adoptions. However the arguments from institutions like the United Nations and especially UNICEF that inter-country adoptions causes’ damage to identity due to a person leaving their country of birth is a very racially based point of view and views identity as fixed. However identity consist of so much more such as discussed earlier the Me and I, the individual self and the influence of the self by society. The looking glass self concept where the views, perception and judgments of others affects the ways an individual feels about him or herself.
Something that would be good to investigate would be for those organizations to do more qualitative and Quantitative research into how actually institutions in my case orphanages, effects children or to look at existing research because they are not permanent solutions for children in the long term.
As well that racialization is very critical and these institutions often argue that certain ethnicities are more problematic than others however it is not the ethnicities, but the way individuals were treated; hence their personal experiences which form their identity, which often were of a psychological and physical nature.
Hence overall for me my identity has been affected by adoption but it has expanded my personal experiences and actually allows me to interact better with people of different ethnicities, due to my range of experiences.
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