International adoption and child welfare expert Victor Groza, will assist the Ukrainian government in setting up programs to move thousands of children from institutions formed under the old Soviet system into family life through adoption or foster care.
Groza, professor of social work at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University, is drawing upon his child welfare experiences in Romania and India, as well as the domestic adoption system in the United States.
Because adoption remains a private matter for many Ukrainian families, little is known about the process or adoption outcomes. An estimated 1,500 children found permanent homes last year in the Ukraine—or approximately 1% of children moved out of institutional life.
"However great the condition of the institutions, it is no place for a child growing up," said Groza, about the reasons Ukraine is taking these progressive steps to make major reforms to its child welfare system.
He began the 18-month project with Ukraine's State Institute of the Ministry for Family, Youth and Sports in January. The project is supported by Holt Children Services International, an organization that he has also worked with in Romania and India. The Ukrainian work is through a contract with USAID.
As part of Groza's contributions to the project, he will conduct training; set up research to gain evidence for the programs, policies and services to be developed; and provide supplemental materials as needed. As part of his effort, he will visit the country several times during the project to meet with Ukrainian social service leaders involved in the reforms.
Currently, Groza is reviewing the findings of a pilot study of 29 families who have adopted children that explored the motivation and factors that led families to adopt, and the families' challenges from meeting the child to the process's completion in court. The pilot study tested the research methods and instruments for the Ukrainian agency to undergo a major study of Ukrainian adoptions. Findings showed that the adopted children found stable homes with parents who had been together between 11 and 15 years of marriage. This was the first marriage for most of the parents. The majority of the parents were generally well-educated and had higher incomes.
The small study yielded some surprising information as Ukraine begins reforms, said Groza. What surprised Ukrainian social workers is that the majority of parents adopted because of infertility. It was thought that humanitarian reasons motivated most adoptions, but it was the second leading reason to give a child a new home.
Groza said that this implies that Ukraine could make efforts to reach more families through the medical and infertility clinics. Another new finding for the social service leaders was that the unpredictability of the court stressed many families as judges challenged the reasons for adoption, with some allegations of families profiting by taking in children.
"It was not the joyful experience it could have been," said Groza, pointing out that efforts need to be made to change the attitudes in the court system.
Groza undertook similar work in Romania in the 1990s after the plight of institutionalized children became an international concern.
Groza is very hopeful for the children still living in institutions. "You have a lot of young professional people committing themselves to the interests of children and making changes for them," he said. "Changes to adoption and foster care can never happen unless you have the political will and professional help to make it happen." In the Ukraine, Groza said, they have both.
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