Building a Future for At-Risk Families and Youth
Although Russia is a country with abundant natural resources and a growing economy, social services are underdeveloped and care for vulnerable populations remain poorly funded. Many people still lack adequate access to medical care and other services. The state of the Russian family, which was badly affected by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent economic, political and social crises, remains in turmoil due to high rates of alcoholism and drug use paired with financial instability. Thousands of children are neglected and abused, with an estimated 420,000 living in institutions. Graduates of these institutions rarely receive any preparation for life as an independent adult, and many end up homeless, working illicitly and serving prison sentences for drug-related offences. Additionally, Russia has one of the fastest growing HIV epidemics in the world, and many babies born to HIV-positive mothers are abandoned soon after birth.
Addressing child abuse
Thousands of children suffer from physical and psychological abuse in the Russian Federation each year; however, most cases go unreported. In those cases that are identified by the authorities, assistance available to victims is insufficient and often limited to basic medical care. Even worse, the gaps in current child protection regulations contribute to the medical, legal and social service systems’ inability to respond effectively to abuse. By partnering with a pediatric hospital in St. Petersburg, HealthRight assists child survivors of abuse and their supportive family members to access therapeutic and legal support in order to overcome their trauma, transition to a safe living environment, and pursue justice.
Assisting women transition out of prison
Women in Russian prisons are highly vulnerable and disproportionately affected by HIV; over 50% of the prisoners in a female penitentiary near St. Petersburg are HIV-positive, and over half have children under 18 years of age. These women lack HIV-related information, counseling, and access to testing, treatment, care and support before and after release. When available, government pre and post-release services are highly fragmented, leading to homelessness, unemployment, and high rates of recidivism. In 2011, HealthRight began training prisoners in order to prepare them for release, and engaging recently released women in case management in order to help them access social, legal and medical care, and reconnect with their families.
Supporting at-risk youth
Since 1994, HealthRight International has been working in St. Petersburg to provide innovative and replicablecommunity-based services to street and at-risk children and youth. HealthRight programs provide safe places for young people to access a range of support services and help youth find alternatives to living on the streets or in institutions. HealthRight works with local partners to build access to comprehensive case management services, which includes counseling and access to crisis and transitional housing. To ensure clients have the opportunity to live in a supportive environment, HealthRight facilitates foster family placement and restoration of family support. HealthRight is also working to address alarmingly high rates of HIV-infection among street and at-risk children and youth in St. Petersburg, through the development and implementation of innovative prevention and treatment models.
Helping HIV-positive mothers care for themselves and their children
HIV-positive women in Russia face tremendous stigma, have limited knowledge of HIV transmission or treatment, and often learn their HIV status during labor, without adequate support or counseling. In response to these challenges and the consequent rising rates of infant abandonment among HIV-positive women in Russia, HealthRight created the MAMA+ project. Since its launch in 2005, MAMA+ has empowered hundreds of HIV-positive mothers to access services to promote their own wellbeing and to support them in caring for their children in the family environment. HealthRight replicated MAMA+ in Ukraine and Vietnam, and now in six regions of the Russian Federation. In order to ensure the sustainability of the MAMA+ project and to reach new populations in need of services, HealthRight also works closely with public authorities to train providers in best practices developed through the MAMA+ project.
Comprehensive and long-term solutions
To ensure project sustainability and provide support to our partners, HealthRight co-founded a local nonprofit organization, Doctors to Children, for joint implementation of many projects. HealthRight’s community-based services have also strengthened the local government’s support for child welfare and human rights, and have created vital connections between public services, local organizations, and people in need.