Russia – March 12 2020

Keeping families together in Russia

A family break-up and abandonment prevention program, started by SOS Russia in 2006, has kept more than 14,000 children with their birth families.

Yekaterina poses with her two-month-old son in her arms while her three daughters sit nearby. It is an ordinary family photo. But a few years ago, taking tender family photos like these were not possible.

The 25-year-old mother from St. Petersburg, Russia was pregnant with her third daughter when her partner started to drink heavily and left the family. She had no money or family to help her. Desperation forced her to give up custody of her daughters and place them in a children’s home.

“It felt like losing a part of my soul,” says Yekaterina, “but it was the only solution to ensure they were safe. I have neither family nor friends to help me.” She did not see or talk to her children for half a year.

But Yekaterina did not lose hope. In October 2014, she reached out to the SOS Children's Villages Family Strengthening Center in St. Petersburg where she received psychosocial counseling and parenting classes. She found a job in a cafe and began to receive social support from the state.

“Yekaterina applied to the program on her own and realized that the responsibility for the return of the children lied entirely with her,” says Marina Medvedeva, head of the SOS family strengthening center in St. Petersburg. “Specialists are there to help, but it is Yekaterina who had to make decisions and act. She knew it would be a long way, that there would be difficulties, but she did it.”

Six months after starting to work with SOS social workers, the children were able to return home to their mom. SOS psychologists continued to support the family for another two years to improve the relationship between Yekaterina and her children. Though she no longer needs support, specialists still stay in touch.

1,300 families supported across Russia

The family break-up and abandonment prevention program started by SOS Children's Villages Russia has kept more than 14,000 children with their birth families since it started in 2006.

In 80% of cases, families at risk of breakdown are able to cope with a crisis when they receive some timely help, according to SOS Russia.

The program offers a wide range of family services, such as preventing the surrender of newborns, psychological support, provision of temporary accommodation, dealing with alcohol and drug abuse, social and legal support and assistance in finding a job and improving housing conditions.

Currently, the program supports more than 1,300 families like Yekaterina’s, with hopes of expanding it to reach 4,000 more families, or an additional 6,000 children, by 2023. 

The family break-up and abandonment prevention program, which runs in seven regions of Russia, is funded by a number of corporate donors such as IKEA Russia, which has supported the program since 2015.

The program is also made possible through the support of major individual donors who are passionate about keeping struggling families together.

“A healthy society begins with a stable family and happy childhood,” says Sergey Ivanov, CEO of ALROSA, a Russian group of diamond mining companies. “I want to live in a country where each child has his own home, a close-knit family and opportunity to find his own path in life. Therefore, I have great respect for everything that the SOS Children's Villages team does and I try to help them.”

Yakov Tesis, whose family has supported SOS Children's Villages Russia since 2014, says: “This project, prevention of family break-up and abandonment, allows us to help families in trouble.”

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