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In the early 1990s, Belarus gained its independence after the collapse of the USSR and began the process of economic and social transition. Families and children, though, continue to bear the costs of the lengthy realignment. The country also has experienced tremendous environmental, health, social, political, economic and human consequences because of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The number of children with disabilities has tripled since 1990, and the number of orphaned children has doubled since 1995. The financial crisis of 2011 led to a huge decrease in income for Belarusian families, resulting in increased depression and alcoholism consumption across the population.

More and more children are at risk from family breakdown, divorce, parental substance abuse and violence, and there are growing numbers of abused and neglected children and social orphans (children who have been legally withdrawn from their parents with deprivation of parental rights).

ChildFund has served children in Belarus since 1993.

One of ChildFund Belarus’ programs, Supporting Orphans and Vulnerable Children, helps return orphaned children who live in institutions to a sense of normalcy by providing opportunities for them to experience visits of varying length with “guest” or foster families. Both the families and children benefit by learning about each other, and these connections often lead to permanent foster care. By 2009, orphan institutionalization had dropped to 6 percent in communities ChildFund serves, compared to the national average of 25 percent.

The huge numbers of children with disabilities overwhelmed a system ill-equipped to deal with them, and Belarusian children in rural areas have even less, if any, access to services for people with disabilities. With support from USAID’s Displaced Children and Orphans Fund, ChildFund works with local organizations to create conditions for equal participation of people with disabilities in all areas of life. Services include improved access to education, social support and rehabilitation, vocational training, employment opportunities, integration and respite care. By 2012, more than 4,000 children with disabilities and their family members had benefited.

ChildFund also supported advocacy efforts to promote the rights of people with disabilities, which led to changes in national and local legislation to expand services, accessibility, health care, education, vocational training, equal employment opportunities and support for independent living. In fact, Belarus has identified inclusive education as its national priority for 2012-2016.

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