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Keeping the orphans at home would not only be better for them, but also the economy, as the cost to the government of supporting families with disabilities is far lower than that needed for institutionalization, according to studies. Like Russia now, the U.S. used to put most of its developmentally disabled in public institutions, but today about 90% of the U.S.’s 4.5 million disabled live in private homes. Washington, D.C. and eight states have closed every large, public institution for the disabled. Instead of being sent to orphanages, disabled children live in homes and have access to rehabilitation centers.
One such rehabilitation center in Russia is the Hope Center in the city of Nizhnekamsk. The center provides early intervention, support to families so as to prevent abandonment of disabled children, and a resource center with medical journals, Internet access, and developmental toys that can be checked out.
During Baker’s recent visit to the Hope Center, the children put on a good show for him and other foreign visitors, reciting their own poetry and singing. A pretty, tall teen who is here because of a serious heart defect sings a pop song. A six-year-old girl reads a rhyme about putting out food for a bird so it will feel more cheerful. In a sunny room three children play with paper boats among plants, pools of water, and chirping budgies in a cage.
Nina Bukhanova, head of the center, says she wants to create a sense of comfort and beauty for the children. Parents are often largely concerned about whether their child will be able to walk, but Bukhanova emphasizes the equal importance of other skills such as being able to feed, dress and go to the toilet by oneself and to have social skills and a good self-image. She frames the children’s artwork and puts it on the wall.
“In the end the child is convinced he is an artist,” Bukhanova says.
As Baker leaves the center a baby girl, seen earlier naked on a table receiving a therapeutic massage, looks like a little present as she is bundled up warmly to be taken home by her mother.
The Russian government’s new campaign will send more children home, whether that be to Russia or abroad. Of about 24,770 Russian children adopted last year, 38 percent were adopted by foreigners and 5,841 by Americans. The campaign’s new website is currently in Russian only but an English language version is scheduled to be launched within a month.
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