Details 15:51 15 Nov 2023

"An orphanage does not raise, but only sustains a child": what to do with Ukrainian orphanages

In many European countries, orphanages are considered a rudiment and a system that does not work. However, there are still no significant reassessments of this approach in Ukraine. Rubryka analyzed the steps the state could take to help children left without parental care.

What is the problem?

The war brought Ukrainians pain, suffering, and complex trials. Ukrainian children suffered the most from the armed aggression of the Russian Federation. According to the National Social Service of Ukraine, since February 24, 2022, more than 8,500 children have been left without parental care for various reasons. Relatives took care of most of them, but some children, in particular those orphaned by the war, ended up in orphanages.

Today, 5,500 children in Ukrainian residential institutions have no one to take care of them except the state. The orphanage system, which Ukraine inherited from the USSR, discredited itself long ago. Lack of attention, insufficient education, and upbringing consisting of restrictions — the system does not replace the family for children. It is impossible to guarantee children a happy childhood in institutions of this type.

What is the solution?

Rubryka spoke to Leonid Lebedev, the head of the "Change One Life – Ukraine" charitable foundation and adviser to the Minister of Social Policy (2019-2020), about how Ukraine can change the situation and what an alternative to orphanages may be.

How does it work?
Sustenance, not upbringing

The conversation about the problem of orphanages in Ukraine should start with history. The system of these institutions was formed at the very beginning of the formation of Soviet power and gained popularity after the end of World War II when there were many children whose parents and relatives died during hostilities. The country faced a challenge to remove children from the streets quickly. At that time, it was a solution. Today, the problem of homelessness and child begging on such a scale does not exist in Ukraine. Leonid Lebedev, the father of six adopted children and the head of the "Change One Life – Ukraine" charitable foundation, is confident that Ukrainian society is capable of taking care of its children.

"Although everything is fine with the funding of such institutions, orphanages do not solve the issue of orphanhood," Lebedev told Rubryka. According to the legislation, the orphanage does not educate but only sustains the child. However, childhood is limited, and if no one is engaged in education, then very quickly, a citizen enters society not only traumatized by the lack of parental attention and love but also completely unprepared for adult life. And this is actually a huge army of children.

Before the war, the number of children living in orphanages reached 100,000. There are more than 700 such institutions throughout Ukraine, which are divided into 15 types. They have different names, but the system is almost the same. Such institutions for children are subordinated to not even one but three bodies at once — the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Social Policy.

Дитячі будинки в Україні

Illustrative photo.

The problem is that children stay in all institutions only until they turn 18. If the child is relatively healthy, they leave the institution without any support. If they are in serious condition, the system transfers them to homes for the elderly, where they simply live out.

Evolutionarily, Ukraine should move to another stage — the stage of foster families, Lebedev is convinced. This is the practice of all developed countries. It is necessary to understand there will always be orphans, but society can ensure no orphans in boarding schools. Despite the war, the reform of deinstitutionalization, dismantling the residential system, and creating the necessary services on the ground, i.e., in villages and cities where people with disabilities can stay with their families, should finally move from a standstill and work in full force.

A world without orphans

Ukraine's first family forms of care have existed since the times of Zaporizhian Sich. Then, according to Lebedev, there were straightforward rules regarding this — if the child's parents died, the community took the child in and continued to raise them. Such a simple practice now exists in Israel — close relatives or friends immediately take an orphaned child. The number of families who want to adopt a child in Israel far exceeds the number of children who need a new family. Sick children or children with disabilities are also not neglected there.


There are no orphanages in the Netherlands either. There, foster families take care of children. Fostering is the emergency placement of a child with a foster family for a certain period or until the child reaches the age of majority. At the same time, no more than 40% of children remain in such families for more than two years, and the rest are either reunited with their biological parents or officially become orphans and are immediately adopted.

Lithuania has also completed the path to a society without orphanages in ten years. There, orphans live with guardians or in foster families.

"In Ukraine, we are also looking for family forms," continues Lebedev. Currently, there are several of them in Ukraine: adoption, guardianship for relatives, guardianship for non-relatives, foster families, and family-type children's homes. That is, Ukraine has bred as many forms as there are not in any country in the world. Now, it's about reducing them to elementary things. That is, in addition to adoption, there should be guardianship for relatives, and there should be foster families. Lebedev believes it is time for three such simple options because when the forms are simplified, the conditions are also simplified, and, accordingly, the child's path to the family.

Дитячі будинки в Україні

Illustrative photo.

Enough people are willing to become a family for children left without parental care in Ukraine. In 2022, the Office of the President of Ukraine, together with UNICEF and the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine, launched the chatbot "The child is not alone." Since the beginning of the war, more than 24,000 applications from people who would like to shelter a child during the war have passed through this chatbot. However, according to Lebedev, when the initiative was launched, few people understood what it was: who to shelter, how and for how long, and the necessary conditions for this.

"People need more explanations — that children will not be given immediately, that there is compulsory education, and children have statuses," Lebedev continues. "If we clarify now, let people understand that there is adoption, there is guardianship, there are certain conditions, which should be much simpler than they are now, then I think that out of 24 thousand willing to find parents for 5 thousand orphans, who are currently in orphanages, will not be a problem."

Without artificial barriers and bureaucracy

The expert emphasizes that it is necessary to systematically work with the problem of orphanhood, from top to bottom. And here the question arises — who exactly should do this to achieve an actual result?

"When I, as a statesman, worked on this issue in 2020, the vision was as follows — a separate reform office is needed. A special team, not burdened by bureaucracy and other functions. Many public associations work this way, including our "Change One Life" foundation. We are focused only on the problem of orphanhood — we get to know the children and bring them to adoption. Officials should work in the same way," explains Lebedev.

However, recently, a body was created to promote deinstitutionalization reform in Ukraine. The "Coordinating Center for the Development of Family Education and Child Care" is designed to coordinate the actions of central and local executive bodies, local self-government bodies, enterprises, and other institutions in preparing and implementing events of national significance. It is expected that the main focus of the center's activities should be the support of family forms of upbringing, in particular, large foster families.

Lebedev believes that the task of the newly created body should be not only the development of proposals for legislation. The center should get more powers and work not only as a legislative but also as an executive body. For example, this is how, with the help of a separate structural department, a reform of the procurement sector took place at one time. As a result, Ukraine received a transparent, understandable, and working Prozorro public procurement system.

What steps should the state take first?

Those who care about the problems of orphanhood believe that the orphanages of the Ministry of Social Policy system are the institutions from which the reform of deinstitutionalization should begin. Because if it were possible to remove children from these institutions by creating the necessary infrastructure in communities, this would automatically solve the problems of other children.

  • There are children who were brought to the orphanage on the application of their parents.
  • Children with disabilities who, with the support and creation of services in communities, could live at home.
  • There are children with very severe forms of disability who need round-the-clock medical care.
  • Almost all children do not maintain a relationship with their parents, regardless of their actual status. This also deprives them of the right to a family.

However, the main thing is that when they find themselves in such an institution, most of them are doomed to fill other institutions of the ministry — psycho-neurological institutions and then — geriatric institutions. Unfortunately, breaking out of this vicious circle is almost impossible because staying in institutions deprives you of self-service skills and makes you dependent on the staff.

Дитячі будинки в Україні

Illustrative photo.

According to Lebedev, first of all, the problem of boarding schools should be divided into two parts.

The first: it is necessary to arrange all those children who are already orphans in family forms.

  • For this, a targeted information campaign on adoption culture is necessary. "We have to prepare society through advertising campaigns, through active social advertising, which should be in all mass media and literally at every step," Lebedev explains. Here, it is worth mentioning the example of Lithuania, where every village has a billboard with the contacts of services, where you can contact if you can and want to shelter a child.
  • There should also be a powerful recruiting campaign: it is necessary to sift through millions of Ukrainians, beginning with the same 24 thousand who have already registered through the chatbot, and identify five to six thousand who are potentially ready to adopt. That is how many orphans there are now. "When we have candidates, we will have adoptive families to which the children will go. Of course, corresponding changes in the legislation will be needed, but all this should happen simultaneously," the expert notes.
  • In addition, regular meetings with adoptive parents should be organized to exchange ideas on making this process easier and more understandable. Communication between those who adopt or wish to adopt and those who set the rules must be established.

The second: to prevent the problem from increasing, that is, to prevent the entry of new children into orphanage-type institutions.

According to statistics, among those who are in orphanages, only 20% are orphans, and 80% are children deprived of parental care. In particular, these are children whose parents lead an antisocial lifestyle and do not want to take responsibility for their children. Also, today, there are thousands of children in the risk group who live in families that find themselves in difficult life circumstances or live in places where there are no social services necessary for the child. These children usually fill orphanages.

The expert notes that these issues are very complex and cannot be solved immediately, but it is necessary to move in this direction. It is necessary to carry out explanatory work and, increase the number of social workers, raise the responsibility of the children's affairs service so that children whose fate their parents are not interested in for more than half a year do not wait out in boarding schools, but in time move into the category of those who can be adopted or placed under guardianship/care. It is also necessary to provide social services for children in each community, which can be very different. Somewhere, it can be a school bus, and it can be medical workers in another place. After all, there are cases when a child can be sent to a specialized institution only because there is, for example, a speech therapist there. If all needs are met, ideally, both sick children and children with disabilities will return to their families.


Lebedev adds that there is another solution for children with disabilities, which, unfortunately, is currently not being developed in the state at all. This is a Small Group Home (SGH) — a social protection institution designed for the simultaneous residence of no more than ten children (in the case of children with disabilities — eight) in conditions as close as possible to family ones. The most crucial difference between a small group home and an orphanage is an individual approach to the child and the work of specialists that meet their needs and life situations. There are several such examples in Kyiv. They are successful, and the state's task is to promote the implementation of this form in other cities and villages.

Дитячі будинки в Україні

Illustrative photo.

The expert also believes that it is necessary to work on financial support for families who have expressed a desire to take a child home. According to the law, guardians receive monthly financial assistance for child maintenance of 2.5 times the subsistence minimum (up to six years — ₴5,680, up to 18 years — ₴7,082). Foster families and family-type children's homes receive the same amount per child. If the child is disabled, then 3.5 subsistence minimums (₴7,952 and ₴9,915, respectively). However, the amount of financial assistance for an adopted child looks different and is equal to the amount that parents receive from the state when they give birth to their own child. Today, the total amount of assistance is ₴41,280, paid in installments over three years from the child's adoption: ₴10,320 — once and  ₴860/month — over the next 36 months.

"It would be worthwhile to raise payments here because now society often adopts children with injuries. Children with injuries need funds for rehabilitation and treatment. Such families today need to have considerable resources. Eight hundred hryvnias per month is very little, practically nothing," notes Lebedev.

Even more useful solutions!

The charity foundation "Change one life – Ukraine", headed by Lebedev, started its own information campaign to help orphans even before the war. The foundation launched the charity program "Change one life". One of the tools of the project was stories about children and their distribution until future parents see them. Even now, during the war, foundation employees go around orphanages and make videos about children so they can be seen online. Thanks to such videos, about a thousand children have already found new families. The fund is also working to make these videos appear in Diia, Ukraine's digital governance app, and other state resources.

Under each of the videos, there are contacts of services that you can contact for a specific child. You can get an initial consultation on adoption issues at the charity fund "Change one life — Ukraine" via phone at +38 067 343 37 73. You can also write your questions to the e-mail [email protected] and thus receive support from the head of the charity fund "Change one life – Ukraine" Leonid Lebedev.

Ukraine, as a part of the civilized world, must ensure that all children left without parental care find their own family and home.


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