Ryazan Baby Home
Ryazan is a large town with a population of 500,000, 180 km south east of Moscow. The town has one Baby Home. The 150 children at this Baby Home are fortunate in that it is run by a Director committed to improving the lives of the children with disabilities. Portage is now well established in the Baby Home with the wholehearted support of its Director, Tatiana Alexandrovna Gross:
“Portage radically changed the work of the Baby Home. Today I can’t imagine our future life and development without using this programme”
A team of 11 Portage workers care for the 40 disabled children. Disabilities are varied and include Downs Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and Foetal Alcohol Syndrome but there is no disability that prevents a child benefiting from Portage. Children can reap the benefits as soon as they arrive in the home as they are immediately included in the Portage programme. The children live in family groups of around 10 children of a similar age. Many of the Portage workers are also Care workers in the orphanage and where possible, Portage workers work with children from their own group. This allows skills worked on in their daily Portage sessions to be continued in the child’s group area and makes for a more realistic practise of self-help skills.
One measure of success is where the children go on leaving the Baby Home. In 2009, five children were adopted either overseas or within Russia and two returned to live with their families. Adoption of a disabled child within Russia is rare, one of the main reasons being that the state provides no support for the families of disabled children. The fact children are being adopted in-country shows just how much they are progressing and developing with the help of Portage. Adoption is the ideal outcome, but for those who are not adopted there are four other options. Penza is an orphanage for the physically disabled where they get an education. Children with mental and physical disabilities but who are mobile go to Yelatma Correctional Home where they will also get an education. Whereas in the past few disabled children from the baby home would go there, all Downs Syndrome children now go to the Correctional Home along with children with other disabilities. Eight children moved there in 2009. No children moved to Yelatma Closed Orphanage, which is for children who have severe mental and physical disabilities and tend not to be mobile. Girls with special needs may go to a convent where they can remain for the rest of their lives if they so wish.
Yelatma Orphanage (age 4-19)
Yelatma is a large traditional village 200 km from Ryazan. Within Yelatma is an orphanage run by the Department of Social Development and Labour, which is closed to most outsiders. 45 severely disabled children aged four to nineteen live there, shut off from the outside world. None of them attend school. The Director of the orphanage at Yelatma heard of the progress made by children at the Ryazan Baby Home and invited ThePromise to bring Portage to the orphanage. This was a significant breakthrough for ThePromise as outsiders are not usually invited into closed orphanages.
Prior to the introduction of Portage, the children stayed in bed all day and were offered no therapy or stimulation and no education. They received their basic needs of food, clothing and a weekly bath. Following a highly successful pilot project with a small group of children in 2006, 30 children aged 4 to 15 now receive Portage from a team of 10 Portage workers.
Progress has been tremendous, and the home has gone from being a silent place with empty corridors to one of noise and laughter and movement as children who have been bed bound for many years can now get themselves out of bed and move around the home interacting with each other and the staff. Many children who were only fed with a bottle in bed are now sitting up at tables feeding themselves more solid food and they are learning to play. One Portage worker said:
“We thought only young children would benefit from Portage but this programme produces amazing results for older children too.”
There are a number of children in Yelatma orphanage, aged 9-17, who predominantly have learning and/or behavioural difficulties. For a number of reasons, they are not suited to the Portage programme. 12 of these children are mobile and three have lost their mobility due to the conditions they are living in and lack of stimulation. Before ThePromise started working with them these children spent their days in a small room in the orphanage ‘guarded’ by an elderly woman who would stop them physically harming themselves and makes sure they didn’t escape. They had no toys or books and spent their days sitting or lying on padded mats rocking and moaning as a form of self-stimulation. A television tuned to a channel showing Russian soap operas played constantly. The noise was unbearable for some of the children with sensory impairments. One child had his hands tied as he was considered a risk to himself and others.
Working with a UK qualified Occupational Therapist, we have recruited and are providing ongoing training for four Children’s Workers to work with these children. They are developing a programme of activities for each individual child such as learning to communicate with others, going outside with an adult, drawing and jigsaws. We are also refurbishing the dayroom and have reorganised the dining room so that a corner of it can be used for quiet daytime activities, like storytelling and one to one sessions. In the summer months we are encouraging the children’s workers to take the children outside – something that was never done before. The Children’s Workers will be trained and supported by our volunteer Occupational Therapist for a year and ThePromise is providing all necessary equipment.