01 August 2018

A social worker’s story, Ukraine, Part 3

Lesya’s support helped Katya cope with caring for her twins
Photo by Iryna Andreytsiv


Lesya is one of a team of social workers, trained by Hope and Homes for Children to work in Makariv, a district in the Kyiv region of Ukraine. Her job is to support families in order to stop children being placed in institutions. Here, she tells the third of three stories from her working life: 

Breaking the vicious cycle of institutionalisation

A social worker does not just save children from institutions and keep families together. My work also helps to break the vicious circle of children growing up in institutions and then being unable to cope with children of their own and so abandoning those children to institutions in their turn. This is why we see generation after generation of children condemned to grow up in residential institutions that harm their development and their well-being.

There are usually many more factors that lead to children being placed in institutions than simply the unwillingness of parents to take care of their children. Poverty, alcoholism and poor living conditions also contribute to the problem.

A few months ago, I started working with a 36-year old woman named Katya. She had grown up in a family of 12 children. Her parents abused alcohol.  When she was 11, Katya and four of her younger brothers and sisters were removed from the family and placed in a residential institution not far from Kyiv.

Katya stayed there for a week and then took her younger siblings and ran away back home. She was sent back to the institution but she ran away again and again.

Katya left school at 15 and eventually found work on a farm and then as a kindergarten teaching assistant but her life was precarious. Then Katya became pregnant. She would not say who the father was. At the time she had nowhere permanent to live.

When Katya gave birth to her twin daughters, she was transferred from the hospital to the Mother and Baby Unit at the Ray of Hope Family Centre, established by Hope and Homes for Children,  while I looked for a permanent home for Katya and her babies.

Eventually I found a small house in the centre of a nearby village, close to the outpatient clinic, school and the grocery store. When Katya moved to the house, local health care workers were right there to help with the twins. They taught her how to take proper care of her children and I continued to support her as much as possible.

Katya says, “Lesya is always there for me and it makes me feel confident and peaceful. She often comes to see how I am doing and if everything is okay.”

When I last visited, the twins’ room was clean, the floor was mopped, the sheets were fresh and the babies were sleeping peacefully in their cribs.

Katya has started a new relationship. Her partner has a job and helps Katya with the house.  He has a son from a previous relationship and now they all live together as a family.

Katya does not have a clear picture of what she would like her future to be, beyond telling me that she wants her children to grow up healthy but I always try to motivate parents and encourage them to improve their lives and pursue their dreams.

I will continue to work with Katya to shape her plans for the future but the past still casts a shadow over her life.  She is no longer in touch with any of her eleven brothers and sisters. “It’s life that separated us,” she says. And the institutions. Katya’s youngest brother and sister were adopted abroad. Two other siblings were removed from the family as babies and adopted straight from the maternity hospital. Two other siblings died and two are missing. Katya stopped speaking to another of her sisters after she abandoned her children. Katya cannot forgive her for this. “I would never give my girls to the internat (institution),” she says.

In the five years that Lesya has been working in the village, no children there have been placed in institutions.


Based on an original article by Iryna Andreytsiv for Ukrainska Pravda online