The case was resolved in a pre-trial process

Save our relations: the case on removing a child from the family

2 March 2020

Names have been changed for ethical reasons and in order to respect the rights of the child.

The mother and daughter had spent May holidays in Moscow, and on 14 May Katya was taken to an orphanage from the Russian language exam. Maria, Katya's foster mother, was only informed by the guardianship authorities of the decision to place a child "from a troubled family" in an orphanage. The guardianship authorities did not provide documents explaining the reasons for this decision. Meanwhile, Katya was in an orphanage for several months and asked her mother to take her home. Irina Protasova, a human rights defender, and Lyudmila Zolotareva, a head of the Association of foster families, were also involved in the complicated family situation.

Katya from an orphanage

In 2014, Maria came to one of the orphanages of Mari El Republic to meet a girl named Katya. They immediately found a common language. A few weeks later, Maria decided to take Katya under her care. "Good girl! A problem-free child. You are very lucky," the teachers of the orphanage kept repeating. However, the teachers did not mention the fact that Katya may have serious problems with adaptation.

In September, Katya went to school, and she began to have problems in adapting both in the school and in the family. Maria went to the centre for psychological and pedagogical assistance, where the staff advised her to refuse from the child. But Maria wanted to keep in touch with Katya, so she applied to a paediatric neurologist for help.

Fateful decision

During the five years of living in the family, Katya learned a lot: maintaining order in the house, caring for pets, cooking simple dishes. Maria wanted to give her daughter a comprehensive education. Katya went to art school, swimming, basketball, and karate. The family had a warm relationship. Katya called Maria mother. However, the psychological problems were not completely solved.

In 2018, Maria again had to seek help from a paediatric neurologist. This time, the doctors insisted on Katya's hospitalization. During the year, Maria repeatedly asked for help in various centres of psychological assistance, both in Mari El Republic and other regions. But since each region decides how to provide psychological assistance, employees of the Cheboksary psychological centre had no right to help Katya. And in Mari El Republic, Maria was advised to refuse from the child before it was too late.

In January 2019, when Maria was going to take her daughter to another appointment with a psychologist, Katya, having a negative experience of communicating with doctors and fears of them, refused to go to the appointment. She went for a walk and didn't come home that day. The next morning, Maria called the police, reporting the child missing. Within a day, Katya was found, she was afraid that the police would return her back to the orphanage. As a result, the police officers drew up an administrative report on Maria, and the Commission for the Affairs of minors and protection of their rights issued a warning for improper performance of parental duties. This decision played a negative role later in the fate of the family.

Break our relations

Not seeing a way out of this situation, at the end of January Maria made a difficult decision to break the relations with Katya. Employees of the guardianship authorities advised not to rush and observe the condition of the girl. As a result, Maria took back her application on refusal from the child.

Maria continued to search for specialists who would help resolve the difficult psychological situation in the family. However, she received only one response to refuse from the child. In March, Maria wrote a second refusal. But realizing that without the mother's love and support, Katya would disappear, Maria wrote an application for the return of the child a week later.

In April, the class teacher informed the inspector of juvenile affairs about the characteristic cuts on Katya's wrists. Katya was examined by a psychiatrist, a medical examiner, and a suicidologist. As a result of examinations, no injuries were found, except the wrists. Experts did not identify suicidal tendencies.

Nevertheless, the investigator sent a request to the guardianship authorities to take measures to remove the child from the family, insisting that there is a threat to the child's life in this family. However, in February, the guardianship authorities responded that the family is safe, and there is no threat to the life and health of the child.

A month passed, the situation in the family stabilized. The mother and daughter continued to live together. They went to Moscow for May holidays.

Back to the orphanage

After pressure from the investigation, on 14 May, Katya was taken to an orphanage during her exam in Russian. Until this moment, Maria did not know that her application for the return of the child was rejected by the guardianship authorities. At the same time, in April, Katya wrote a statement about her desire to live in a foster family with Maria. Several months Katya still lived in an orphanage, while the foster mother proved that her adopted daughter has the right to live and be raised in a family.

When Maria began to find out the reasons for this decision, the guardianship authorities began to answer formally, arguing that Maria could not cope with the child. In the documents, employees of the guardianship authorities indicated two reasons for removing the child from the family: unauthorized departure from home and attempted suicide, as well as the presence of a decree on bringing Maria to administrative responsibility for improper performance of parental duties. Employees of the guardianship authorities, without supporting the judgment with facts, diagnosed the girl with "mental retardation, the girl is Mowgli". At the same time, Maria's two statements about her refusal from the child were called "inappropriate behavior". They also refused the application for temporary transfer of the child to the family for the summer holidays.

Human rights defenders join the case

Human rights defenders of the organization "Man and Law" prepared an administrative lawsuit to declare illegal the decision to terminate custody of a minor. However, they did not submit it. Human rights defenders together with the Association of foster families "Maria" entered into a direct dialogue with the head of the Assembly of deputies of the municipality of Mari El Republic, where Maria and Katya live. The main goal of negotiations is to act exclusively in the interests of the child and settle the case in a pre-trial process.

In Russia, there are laws and support measures to ensure that children from orphanages are able to find a family. Parents are prepared to accept children into families. But after the transfer of a child to a family, there is a large gap in the interaction between the authorities and parents in measures to support families. When a new parent is left alone with the child, conflict situations often arise. The authorities consider the return of the child to an orphanage to be the main solution to the conflict. But this is not the best solution, because the family often needs psychological help from specialists, who are very few in our region, especially in the remote areas.

"In any case, you cannot leave alone such responsible foster parents; you need to help them in raising a child, especially when they ask for help. Human rights defenders and social activists do not want conflicts and court decisions as authorities, because they always have a negative impact on children. And each of our actions should be aimed at protecting the interests of the family and the child.

In this case, everything was resolved successfully: Katya returned to her mother thanks to the interest and support of the municipal authorities. By the way, the guardianship staff who "started a mess" does not work there anymore. Now the guardianship authorities are making an individual program of support for this family,"
– a human rights activist Irina Protasova comments on the situation.