Parenting skills for 30 orphanage-leavers

by St Gregory's Foundation
Parenting skills for 30 orphanage-leavers
Dima playing with his brother and sister
Dima playing with his brother and sister

In our last report we explained about the work we have been doing in Lensovietsky, a disadvantaged and far-flung suburb of St Petersburg, where a lot of orphanage-leavers are housed.  We showed how our Theraplay sessions help parents to play with their young children.  Another vital part of our meetings both in Lensovietsky and at our main centre are the children's sessions.  While the parents go next door for a group therapy session, the children have the chance to play with each other.

This isn't straightforward for any of the children.  Dima particularly struggled with being separated from his mama.  He would be completely inconsolable whenever she left the room, even just to pop out for a very short time to get a glass of water for example.  He would shout and cry, but he wouldn't let any other adults close to him to console him.  Dima is the middle child of three, and his mama is raising them on her own.  His behaviour is linked to his experiences at home, where he has seen various men being violent towards his mama.  He really was terrified to let her out of his sight.

It was essential to reduce Dima's anxiety and to help him connect with the other children in the group.  First we had to work with his mama.  She found it very hard to cope with his hysterics and would frequently come back to the room.  Her coming and going actually made it more difficult for Dima to part from her.  When his mama was calmer, it was easier for us to help Dima to understand and accept the situation.  One of our team would always be beside him in the session to reassure him that "Mama is just next door.  She's having a chat and she will come back as soon as she's finished".  

Dima gradually started to calm down and to trust our team.  With his stress at a manageable level, he could at last start to notice the other children.  He started to play alone, but making more eye contact with those around him and responding if people tried to talk to him.  With more careful support, he started to play with other children.

In the picture his playing cafes with his brother and sister.  An adult is with them to help the play along.  In this situation we provide a commentary for what is happening.  "Look, Misha is serving you, Dima.  He has made you some vegetables.  Thank you, Misha!"  By showing them how to play, we can broaden the range of role-playing games they understand and teach them skills such as turn-taking.  Without this careful work to reduce Dima's anxiety and teach him some basic social skills, Dima would not be in a state to cope with the school environment when the time comes, let alone to learn.

This small success with Dima has also helped his mama feel calmer and trust us.  She can now have some time just for her in the adult group therapy session.  Without having to worry about what is going on next door with her son, she can have the space to get to know our team and the other parents, to reflect and to grow.

Thank you all for your donations which have made this vital work possible.

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First of all, I want to thank all of you for your remarkable response to our Giving Tuesday appeal.  In just one day we raised just over a third of our annual budget for our work with parents who grew up in orphanages and their children.  It is wonderful to see such compassion for this very stigamtised group.  Your generosity is helping sustain a new venture of ours, reaching out to families in a new, far-flung suburb of St Petersburg.

Lensovietsky is a new suburb of St Petersburg, which has become a “settlement of orphanage-leavers”.  A high number of care-leavers have been housed here despite it's underdeveloped infrastructure.  Its crime-rate and anti-social behaviour make it notorious. Understandably, orphanage-leavers are not popular with other residents. Quite apart from their antisocial lifestyle, they have run up debts for heating and water supply, and residents have complained about the disconnection of such necessary services. 

It is in this chaotic environment that we have set up a small parenting group for six families.  We also provide home visits for those in the greatest crisis.  The group is still in its early days and we are working hard to establish trust and to motivate the parents.  The task is urgent, because already we see in their young children delays in their development across the board: in their communication, and in their physical development and in their emotional control.  The children are even prone to self-harming like hitting themselves or banging their head against a wall.

Although their children's development is delayed, the parents have unrealistic ideas about what they should be able to do.  For example, Katya's mama is demanding that she "stop being lazy and learn to walk".  Katya is nine months old.  The parents also behave unpredictably.  For example, their child might be busy playing and they come up behind them and with no warning cart them off to check their nappy.  This unpredictable world makes the children anxious and reluctant to interact with adults.

Our group sessions involve a number of activities, but one of the keys is our Theraplay sessions.  We work individually with parents and their children to teach them age appropriate games they can play together.  We show the parents how to behave like calm, empathetic parents so that they can make more positive contact with their children.  The games are simple ones, which come naturally to parents from loving backgrounds, but they are difficult for our parents and their children.  Gradually, our parents are having more success and are learning to trust our process.  A mama of a 1-year-old boy discovered that, "he's scared to swing on a swing, but he likes being swung in a blanket." Another of our mamas said that her son, "will play with me here, but he doesn't want to at home."  That evening she sent us a video of the two of them playing together really well at home.  This feedback is very important for us.  We can tell that not only the child is experiencing a safe, stable environment, but also that his mother has enough trust in us to try out our activities at home.   

Gradually, we build on this virtuous circle.  Already, our group circle time is calmer.  The children are able to sit still and listen, rather than running off, and their parents are able to keep their interest without shouting.

So we count our first few months with this group a success.  We have some foundations of trust, and enough small successes to give the parents a glimpse of a different kind of relationship with their child.  There is still a great deal to do and we have to be patient.  We can only move at a pace our families can cope with, all the time keeping our goal of happier, healthier families in mind.  We will let you know how they get on.

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Organization Information

St Gregory's Foundation

Location: Hampton Wick, Surrey - United Kingdom
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @SaintGregsFound
Project Leader:
Sarah Gale
Hampton Wick, Surrey United Kingdom
$13,491 raised of $33,000 goal
 
21 donations
$19,509 to go
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