It’s time for child welfare support to grow up // World Bank calls on Russia to centralize child support systems

Over the past 30 years, Russia’s child protection system has become more effective, but it still needs centralized management and data collection, according to a World Bank report. At the same time, according to experts, the creation of a single control center in this area can make it even more bureaucratic and will not solve its main problem – the lack of personnel.

The Russian child protection system has become more effective than in the 1990s and 2000s, but it needs new development tools, including digitalization and centralization of management, follows from the World Bank report “Organization of child protection systems in Russia” (in its creation also the Research Institute under the Ministry of Finance and the Higher School of Economics took part). According to the authors of the report, the Russian child protection system is relatively successful in coping with crisis situations in families, which may threaten parents with deprivation of parental rights, and the child – with placement in an orphanage. For example, over the past 16 years, the number of children in families where one of the parents has lost parental rights has more than halved, from 65 thousand to 28 thousand people, and the number of children left without parental care has decreased almost threefold, from 133 thousand to 43 thousand people. The number of children who need foster families has also decreased – from 724 thousand people in 2009 to 514 thousand people in 2020. This became possible thanks to the development at the state level of two instruments for the protection of children – systems that seek to prevent the destruction of the family, and patronage, compensated foster families. Non-profit organizations have played an important role in the development of these services, the authors of the report note.

At the same time, the number of children who need help from social services, although it has decreased in recent years, continues to be high in comparison with other countries. So, if, according to UNICEF, in European countries it is an average of 1.222 children per 100 thousand of the population under the age of 18, then in Russia this figure reaches 1.853. In order to continue to reduce the number of children who need foster families, according to the authors of the report, Russia needs to make the work of social services more efficient with the help of several tools. For this, first of all, we need a unified decision-making center in this area at the federal level – now the child protection system is under the jurisdiction of both several federal ministries and local authorities. It is also necessary to strengthen the preventive functions of social services, giving them more authority in organizing assistance to families and children. Finally, it is necessary to organize a more effective collection of data on the processes in this area, both in relation to the specific actions of various departments, and in terms of empirical research on the implemented protection practices.

Elena Alshanskaya, head of the Volunteers to Help Orphans Foundation, notes that the Russian child protection system has indeed changed for the better compared to the 1990s, but its success should not be exaggerated. “Social services continue to lack qualified personnel and the necessary infrastructure,” she says. As for the centralization of management, then, according to her, the problem of inconsistent actions of various authorities exists and this could increase the efficiency of the system. “But on the other hand, there are risks of bureaucratization and standard risks of reduced efficiency at the time of the launch of the reform,” says Ms. Alshanskaya.

In the opinion of Anna Mezhova, head of the Keeping Life Foundation, now the Russian child protection system needs not so much the centralization of management as the updating and unification of the standards of work of social services. “It is necessary to develop specialized education and professional standards for such workers, because they are the main resource for helping affected families,” she says.

Anastasia Manuilova

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