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Safe houses – why?

Why do children end up at shelters? The staff of Estonian shelters tell the children’s stories.

  • Andres is 20 years old, he is repeating his last year in basic school and lives in the shelter. When Andres finished the 9th year for the first time, he was given the so-called “white report”, despite having done quite well in school. Andres had nothing to do in his small hometown with a report like this, so he decided to go back to school and complete the proper basic school curriculum. He also works, holding down two jobs in addition to his studies! Andres was brought to the children’s home with his five brothers and sisters when he was 5 or 6 years old. At the age of 13 the boy and his elder brother were expelled from the children’s home due to behavioural problems. Now his brother lives on his own, but Andres has stayed in the shelter – he goes to school and pursues is hobby, cooking, for which he has a real talent.
     
  • 15-year old Erika and 14-year old Imbi are sisters. Erika’s school report has “5”, the highest mark, for most subjects, with just an occasional “4”. In her first school her report even contained a “1” and she was shamed for missing lessons without good reason. Now Erika attends a smaller form at a smaller school and she has not missed a single lesson without good reason. Erika loves writing and she diligently keeps a diary. One of her favourite pastime activities is reading, she reads really thick volumes and can do it all night and day! Erika likes Harry Potter and dreams of having a boyfriend. Imbi’s school certificate has “5”, “4” and some “3” marks, but they keep improving in time. Imbi likes to try different hairstyles and use makeup. Earlier on, when she didn’t have a makeup kit of her own, she used to paint her eyes with a pink marker pen – it was pretty enough and lasted long! Now Imbi has several makeup kits. She likes chatting to people in the Rate portal and says she’s had a boyfriend for ages. Erika and Imbi were brought to the shelter after their mother’s death, as the father could not cope with them on his own. But the girls knew the shelter since their nursery school days – sometimes, when their parents didn’t collect them in the evening, they were brought to the shelter for the night. When the girls started school, they were taken into a foster family, where lived for more than four years. However, the foster mother began paying more attention to one of the sisters and the other girl felt uncomfortable. So they moved to the already familiar shelter. The girls are doing well now.
     
  • One morning 10-year old Vladislav packed all his toys into one plastic bag and his textbooks into another, found his way to the shelter and announced: “I won’t live with my dad anymore!” As it turned out, his father was taking drugs and would often hit the boy. Vladislav’s mother gave up on the task of raising him years ago. The boy will stay in the shelter until the court decides on his custody. Vladislav has lived here for five months now.
     
  • 4-year old Mari was brought to the shelter from a social welfare home. Her father and mother had been drinking for several days, the girl was hungry and uncared for. Now Mari lives at the safe house.
     
  • 15-year old Kalle came to the safe house himself. His mother found a new partner and kicked her teenage son out, because she didn’t think there was enough room for him in her house...
     
  • 13-year old Stella walked into the safe house with her mother one day. The mother announced that she was depressed and no longer able to cope with her daughter. Stella gladly stayed at the safe house.
     
  • 5-year old Martin was brought to the safe house by his grandmother and aunt. Martin’s mother had gone missing and none of the relatives wanted to look after him...
     
  • 16-year old Signe spends three days in the safe house every month, because she has to visit a psychologist and a psychiatrist at the local psychiatric clinic. Signe’s home life is so hard that she has lost the will to live...
     
  • The mother of 3-year old Paul is a drug addict and currently detained for the duration of a preliminary investigation.
     
  • 9-year old Linda, 7-year old Elle, 5-year old Taavi, 3.5-year old Raul and 1.5-year old Kadri have lived in the safe house with their mother for four months because their home burned down.
     
  • 9-year old Kaili, 7-year old Roland and 3-year old Lea have lived in the safe house with their mother for five months now. Their mother lost her job. She is now looking for a new one and attending training courses at the same time. The family has several instant loans that need repaying.
     
  • 4-year old Kunnar came to the safe house with his parents and sister. Kunnar’s father and mother said that they no longer wanted to be his parents...
     
  • 5-year old Mari has lived in the safe house for six months. The little girl says she is scared of her mother when she turns into a zombie. Mari’s mother drinks and takes drugs. Despite that, little Mari stands by the window every day waiting for her mother to come and she really misses her home.
     
  • 16-year old Kadi, 2-year old Pille and their mother rushed into the safe house – it was obvious they were very frightened. The mother’s partner had threatened to shoot them. The family will stay in the safe house until they find a new home and they hope that the court will issue a restraining order against the man who has now been detained.
     
  • 12-year old Ruta came to the safe house accompanied by a social worker. The frightened girl kept her back close to the wall – her stepfather had sexually abused her.
     
  • 9-year old Aino and 5-year old Raiko came to the safe house with their mother who had a black eye. The woman also showed her bruised stomach. Her partner had beaten her in front of the children. The woman reported him to the police.
     
  • The mother of 5-year old Mikk died from a drug overdose year ago. His alcoholic stepfather had no interest in the boy and has only visited him once in the year. Mikk is a good, obedient boy who is helpful and kind-hearted despite his violent past. A great foster family was found for Mikk during his stay in the shelter and the boy gets along with them really well.
     
  • The mother of 2.5-year old Yevgeni keeps disappearing for 2-3 weeks at a time. His father does try to take care of the boy, but he lost their home due to debts and, unable to find a job, had to bring the child to the shelter. The fate of this nice little boy who cries for his father is still undecided, as the social welfare department is only beginning to work on his case.
     
  • 15-year old Diana’s parents divorced when she was 7. Both parents have retained their parental rights but neither wants to raise this problematic, ‘overgrown’ teenager and so the girl keeps toing and froing between the two of them. Diana hasn’t made it to school once this year and she often spends the night out on town, never going home to sleep. Diana’s relationship with her father and mother is very tense and even when officials turn up, the parents fail to keep their cool with accusations and insults flying in both directions…
     
  • The 19-year old mother of 3.5-year old Kristofer is a student who moved to Tallinn. She works but cannot find a place in a nursery school for the boy, and her shift ends at 10 o’clock in the evening. On several occasions, she has left the child at home alone and unattended. The last time it happened the neighbours called the police to help the hysterically crying child who was also suffering from thirst, and the police brought him to the shelter. The young mother blames the city’s social welfare system but has only visited her child once, saying that she is too busy studying and working...
     
  • The mother of 9-year old Daniil has been on the wanted list of the police for six months and the boy hasn’t made it to school yet this year. The police brought the child to the shelter from a drunk neighbour’s place and it is the fourth time that Daniil is staying in the safe house. Child protection went to court to limit the parent’s rights to raise the child.
     
  • 1.8-year old Seryozha’s mother is an alcoholic and she often leaves the boy alone. He has ended up in the shelter several times. His mother will most likely lose her parental rights.
     
  • 2-year old Kolya and his mother went to visit friends, his mother went to get her coat and disappeared... For a while Kolya lived with family friends, but his mother never took an interest in him again. Soon the boy will move to a substitute home.
     
  • 15-year old Nelli came to the shelter herself. Her mother and stepfather were members of a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation. Nelli’s mother forbade her to have any contact with other children or participate in school events, and Nelli had to change schools several times. Nelli doesn’t attend the religious gatherings any more, as she has been expelled from the congregation. She is satisfied with her life in the shelter.
     
  • 11-year old Veronika lived with her mother in Russia. The girl’s father brought her to Estonia after her mother died. For four months, Veronika lived with her father and grandmother, both of whom are heavy drinkers. The child had some horrible things to tell about her life, like her grandmother threatening her with an axe. The girl was brought to the shelter by neighbours.
     
  • The police brought 5-year old Yelena and 3-year old Dmitri to the shelter, as their mother had often left them in their flat unattended. Dmitri had just turned two when he fell out of a fourth floor window... Miraculously, he survived and only suffered minor injuries.
     
  • 5-year old Lenne and 2-year old Maria are sisters. One of them has lived in the safe house since her birth and the other has spent most of her life there. They were brought to the children’s home in an ambulance after their mother overdosed on drugs. The mother never visited them, although Lenne kept asking about her... Now the sisters are in the safe house for the second time. A foster family was found for them but, unfortunately, those people decided to return the children a week later, as they were too much hard work...
     
  • 3-year old Marko has lived in the safe house for over a year. He is a great and kind-hearted boy, who often notices more than adults. His biggest wish is to have a real mother, not someone called “mother” simply because she gave birth to him. Marko’s biological mother visits him about once every three months. She has nonetheless appealed against the court judgment that deprived her of her parental rights. So there is no way Marko could find a new family at the moment. And the boy keeps waiting, growing and hoping that one day his real mother will walk through the door and take him home.
     
  • 3-year old Liisu came to the safe house while her mother was getting treatment in the psychiatric clinic. Liisu is tired of constantly being bounced between her father and mother. Yes, she has a family, but it is broken. Liisu used to see her mother beaten by her father every day. The little girl doesn’t know if she can trust either of her parents. Now she is eagerly waiting for doctors to “mend mum’s heart”.
     
  • The mother of 2-year old Janek is a drug addict. When he was brought to the children’s home, the boy just stood in the middle of the room and stared at the shelf full of toys. It turned out that he had never played with toys before. Janek doesn’t remember his mother, because he couldn’t even speak yet when he was brought to the children’s home. As some children here are visited by their parents, Janek always keeps waiting for someone to come and visit him... Yet his mother has never visited him in the children’s home...
     
  • School-age Pille, Andres, Tanel and Triin came to the children’s home carrying nothing but the care essentials, which included...a cat! Their mother had moved in with a new partner, leaving the children with their violent alcoholic father. They were very frightened of him. Their mother kept promising to return and the children believed her. But she never did. The children did not want to stay at home without her. At first, after moving out, she visited her children quite often. But then her visits became less and less frequent... The children were afraid to stay home alone with their father. They never did their homework and nobody looked after them...
     
  • 4-year old Maia and 6-year old Eero were brought to the children’s home in hospital clothes, malnourished, neglected and frightened. The child protection service were tipped off and the officials went to check on the family. They knocked on the door, but nobody answered it. When they finally got in, they found the parents high on drugs and not reacting to anything..
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