Controversial aspects of the new draft law on adoptive families
The Ministry of Education is developing a bill that tightens the demands on foster families. Over the past few months, experts from public organisations and representatives of the parental community have suggested adjustments to the document proposed by the department.
As Elena Alshanskaya, president of the Foundation for Volunteers to Help Orphans, told ASI, much has changed when compared to the bill initially put forward by the Ministry of Education.
She said that “in the original document there were not even the most basic guidelines for foster families, there was a rigid restriction on the number of children in a family (no more than three, plus a strict limit of adopting only one child per year) and there was a psychological examination to be carried out by child protection authorities. The new one is rightly much more moderate, but there are still several serious points of contention. Not all of them were successfully addressed.”
According to Elena Alshanskaya, it is not clear by what criteria the socio-psychological examination of parents will be judged.
She shared that “the representatives of public organisations and adoptive families did not have a unified position when discussing the bill. There were as many opinions as there were organisations. There were some things for which we were unable to come to a conclusion. There was no consensus for many of the issues, and some organisations were in favour of more stringent requirements for foster families. In particular, they felt it was necessary to examine all members of the family rather than just the potential parents. This is an optimistic idea, but it would require a very well-tested and value-oriented system for placing the child and helping the family, which currently does not exist.”
Alshanskaya explained that the new bill removes the responsibility to carry out these assessments of potential adoptive parents from the guardianship authorities, so that the so-called socio-psychological examination will be carried out by authorised independent organisations. Moreover, the couple will choose which organisation assesses them and be able to challenge the result if they disagree.
“But how this will be tested is still not clear. For experts, this is the most baffling part. We do not know by what methods these assessments will be carried out. It is vital for the government to pay attention to representatives from the entire community when it is establishes what methods will be used. But there is nothing wrong with the idea that a person planning on bringing a child into their family should talk to a psychologist; the question is about the methods used and how the results will be recorded” said Alshanskaya.
As long as it’s not a dump
The second controversial point is linked to change of residence.
“Many members of the research group were generally against the wording that requires guardianship authorities to give permission for relocations. This is a restriction of freedom of movement. However, everyone agreed that they should visit the new address and evaluate the residence. To be completely honest, none of us had a solution for what to do if the conditions are completely inhumane. There are times when a family lives in an expensive rented apartment of which the authorities approve. Then they move, for example, to a cheaper, single-room apartment. The law says that conditions cannot deteriorate, but we managed to change this to say that the conditions should not be such as to “prevent the minor from residing there,” emphasised Alshanskaya.
Otherwise, the experts say, the authorities would consider different options.
“Is moving from a city to a village really a deterioration? Is a big apartment, far away from the child’s school, really better than a small apartment that is much closer? The assessment would be too subjective,” believes Alshanskaya.
She feels that it will always be possible to find something that has worsened. Now the task is to figure out standards that provide minimal but adequate and reasonable requirements for the child’s place of residence. Paradoxically, the document only specifies this requirement for the guardians and foster parents; they cannot move to a total dump, but the adopted children can.
The third controversial point in the document is the limit on the number of children that a family can adopt in a year. The legislation limits this to one child, with the exception of any siblings. Alshanskaya added that “we said that it is necessary to make exceptions and evaluate families individually, so that when a child is settling in well or a family has taken in a child temporarily for a few months, this limit should be lifted. But this didn’t come to pass.”
Help for foster families
Among the major changes in the system, experts note the introduction of support for foster families written into the law. While it is not compulsory, any foster family may request help: social, medical, legal, etc. Moreover, the bill spelled out that this support is voluntary and independent of the guardianship authorities. This is important to ensure that anyone who takes a child into their family is not overwhelmed. This service did not previously exist.
Alshanskaya noted that “another very important change is the possibility of restoring custody after a withdrawal. Previously, this was simply impossible. A huge number of families are permanently separated from their children after a single negative incident and the overreaction of the guardianship authorities; now they will have another chance. Moreover, the authorities will not be able to immediately withdraw custody. They will first have to attempt to help the guardian to cope”.
“The bill, reasonably, delegates responsibilities to the regions but this confuses a few things” commented Yana Leonova, director of the charitable fund Change One Life. “Do they have sufficient funds in their budget? Where will they find trained and experienced staff that are ready for the socio-psychological examination of candidates, or providing guidance to families? How long will it take them to develop the necessary regulatory frameworks? What will happen to candidates and families while this is taking place, and who will be responsible for them?”.
In her opinion, it is not yet clear how to ensure consistent enforcement of the rules when there are so many outsiders involved in these families. There are no firm guarantees of non-disclosure of information discovered through various surveys of families and children.
“We are now seeing that the regions lack the funds to implement federal legislation. There is a severe lack of specialists and there are varying interpretations of regulations. Parent-child relationships are extremely delicate, and it is important that decisions be preceded by serious analytical work based on adequate statistical and scientifically confirmed data,” concluded Leonova.