My counselor friend from the orphanage came to visit us again the other day, and as always she updated me on how things are going over there. There are some big changes going on in how the orphanage is run and funded, from an administrative standpoint.


-the orphanage was run as an institute of education (like a boarding school?)
-St. Petersburg orphanages had their own extracurricular classes led by onsite specialists (dance and music classes, academic tutoring, arts and crafts, etc.)
-orphanage counselors were by law (and academic background) considered educators and would therefore begin to receive pension after putting in 25 years of work in their field

-the orphanage is a social agency
-kids are transported around the city (non-profit organizations lend a hand) to their extracurricular activities since the orphanage is a social agency and not an educational institution
-orphanage counselors are now considered social workers (despite background as educators) and will “retire” with everyone else, when they turn 55 (60 for men)

It sounds kind of funny to an outsider because in the U.S. at least, social work and orphans go hand-in-hand. While I have no doubt that orphanage workers received apt training through their School of Education degree programs, it had always struck me as strange that anything to do with orphans (foster care, host programs) needed to be addressed via the Educational Committee. And that any inspections were done through them. There are a lot of other nuances to do with paperwork, attestations, etc. Whether or not this is a good move in terms of monitoring the care of orphans, the short-term effects may not be so beneficial…

These changes will have an impact in terms of personnel. Nearly all of the counselors I had known at the orphanage will be leaving. Why? Because they are educators, and had been promised a pension after 25 years. My friend Galina is 5 years away. Another counselor I know only had 6 months to go. But if they stay on at the orphanage, their status gets changed to “social worker” and those benefits are lost (or downgraded). So those that had only a few years left are leaving to finish out their careers at schools and kindergartens…maybe to return, maybe not.

Who will be working at the orphanages? Most likely, a combination of younger social workers (who do not have enough years of experience to mind the loss) and older staff who are already getting their retirement benefits and working practically as volunteers. Galina told of one older academic tutor who is now listed as “housekeeping,” because it just doesn’t matter for her at this late in her career.

What about the kids? The orphanage is seeing a lot of troubled kids these days. It’s uncertain whether intake is being handled differently (one girl is suicidal, yet was placed in a regular orphanage?), if they’re hurting because of all the staff changes, or if it’s just a sign of changing times. What will happen to them when the good educators leave and the new, inexperienced ones come aboard? Where is the incentive for professionals to work in orphanages? I didn’t used to be of the “leave it to the professionals” mindset, but there is a certain skill set needed for working in an orphanage…street-smarts, too.

As for the extracurricular activities…it sounded annoying to me at first; to have the kids running all over town. But then again, that’s what non-orphanage kids do. And they do have their own transportation. But still, the orphanage was always a place where you could see rich culture in action: artwork, amazing performances, and the most festive of celebrations. I wonder if they will be able to keep that up in the future.