Dream of a refrigerator and fear for mother - how children with problems in the family live in Abkhazia

Social workers and human rights activists talk about how children in Abkhazia who do not receive proper parental care live, and how the state intends to solve this problem

In Abkhazia, children whose parents can’t or don’t want to take care of them continue to live in their families because they simply have nowhere to go. There are no orphanages or boarding schools in Abkhazia, and experts consider such institutions harmful to the development of children. But there may soon be a state crisis center, like a shelter, in which such children will be able to take refuge at least for a while. In the meantime, the State Service for Social Support for Children and Families takes such children into account and tries to support them. For example, they send them to the children's center at the Panorama public charitable organization, where psychologists, teachers, art therapists and speech pathologists work with them.

Here are three stories from this center.

The dream room turned out to be bright, with many different items. But the most unexpected detail was the refrigerator.

When he first got to the center, ten-year-old Max always froze at the doorway, not wanting to enter. After much persuasion he cautiously looked inside, looked around, and only then very carefully went in. A month later he boldly opens the door, rushes inside, laughs, greets everyone so loudly it can be heard on the whole floor, and tells the psychologist that he was bored.

Max's mother gave birth to him at the age of 19; nothing is known about his father. His mother drinks and she is registered with the police. The boy spends most of his time with his grandparents. At the first meeting, Max told social workers that for two days he only ate cookies. The boy changed schools several times and has been going through the first gradefor the third year.

One day, in an art therapy class at the Temporary Stay Center, a psychologist asked children to draw a room they dreamed of living in. Max's dream room turned out to be very colorful and bright, with many different items that he would like to have. But the most unexpected detail was the refrigerator.

One of Max's drawings in the Panorama Center

About the center
The children's center at the Panorama charity organization was established in Sukhum in 2020. Since that time, 115 children have stayed there. Now the center is visited by 20 children and adolescents aged from six to eighteen years old. Specialists provide them with psychological assistance, and are engaged in their socialization and adaptation in society. They are assigned to classes based on the problems they face.

According to social workers, it is possible to catch Timur's mother sober only at the beginning of the day. Then friends come over and get the party going. But twelve-year-old Timur can talk for hours about his communication with his mother. When they happen to have breakfast together, he tells her in detail about everything that has happened to him lately. And he believes that this day will not be the same as the previous, and mom will stop drinking. She promises him. Timur rarely goes to the day care center ⁠— he always wants to be with his mother to help in case of emergency.

Once, when he was at school, his mother had to go to the hospital, and Timur blames himself for not being there at that moment. But even rare visits to the center's employees were enough to understand that the boy loves to draw and loves animals; at home he has several dogs and cats.
Panorama employees say that the most difficult thing in their work is to help children establish communication with the outside world and learn to understand and accept harsh realities.
“The world seems hostile to such children, because society often hangs labels on them: “difficult”, “neglected”. Any place where these children go, be it kindergarten or school, becomes a test for them. After all, if parents do not take good care of the child, if he is untidy, smells bad, does not have simple social skills, then he becomes the object of ridicule and mockery.

Julia Dubitskaya
children's center
Defense mechanisms of the child: to become either inconspicuous or cruel
According to the center's psychologist Yulia Dubitskaya, depending on their temperament children develop various defense mechanisms: they either become quiet and inconspicuous, not trying to build relationships with the world at all, or aggressive and angry, trying to oppose the cruelty of the world with their own cruelty.

However, not all children attending the center have problems in their family, so specialists try to form mixed groups to help socialization.


Maria is twelve years old but she has never gone to school. According to the father, the girl and her sister have serious health problems and they should not be taught.

Maria and her younger sister can hardly communicate with other people, are overly shy and not self-confident. They do not know how to expand upon and clearly express their thoughts, they answer in monosyllables and often in other people's adult phrases.

They have difficulty distinguishing other people's emotions or thinking critically. All kinds of activities that Maria is offered in the center - drawing, origami, modeling, board games - are still new to her. She enthusiastically takes on each new task, but has not yet shown much interest or involvement in any of them.

Temporary solution
According to the social support service for children and families, in 2021, 68 school-age children in Abkhazia did not go to school. This is about 0.16%of the total number of children and adolescents aged five to 19 years (there are no separate statistics of children of school age in open sources). For regional comparison: in Armenia, for example, about 10%of children do not attend school. But social workers believe that it is not entirely appropriate to draw parallels with large countries with a population of several million ⁠— for such a small republi, 68 people is also a lot.
The office of Commissioner for Children's Rights Maktina Dzhinzholiya often receives requests for assistance to children who are either left without adult care, or "care" that threatens the life and health of the child. Officials discussed for a long time whether it was worth creating a boarding school, and in the end they decided that it was not worth it.
“Most countries are taking steps to close such institutions, there are many studies on their negative impact on the development of the child, on the social disadvantage of orphanage graduates, as well as their propensity to delinquency in the future. An alternative could be a temporary crisis center where a child can stay from a few days to six months. At the same time, the relevant services should make every effort to normalize the situation in the biological family and return the child to it, or to place the child in the family of adoptive parents on a permanent basis.”

Commissioner for Children's Rights
Boarding schools cost the state much more than family-type centers
The commissioner for children's rights adds that residential institutions cost the state much more than alternative ways to solve this problem. A working group under the Ministry of Social Welfare and Population Policy has already developed a charter, drawn up a budget estimate and schedules for the future crisis center, and sent this package of documents to the Cabinet of Ministers and the Ministry of Social Welfare.

The commissioner for children's rights adds that residential institutions cost the state much more than alternative ways to solve this problem. A working group under the Ministry of Social Welfare and Population Policy has already developed a charter, drawn up a budget estimate and schedules for the future crisis center, and sent this package of documents to the Cabinet of Ministers and the Ministry of Social Welfare.

Expenditures under the item “social policy” from year to year take up three percent of the total budget of Abkhazia and amount to 300 million rubles [about $4.85 million]. Expenses for maintaining the executive branch have almost doubled in recent years and now amount to 4.3 billion rubles [about $66 million].

The Commissioner for Children’s Rights adds that, as far as she knows, in 2022, five million rubles [about $80.5 thousand] were already allocated from the state budget of Abkhazia for the creation of a crisis center, but it has not yet been created.
Text: Kama Argun
Illustrations and design: Diana Petriashvili
Photos: personal archives of heroes
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