SOUTHINGTON, Connecticut — As the unemployment rate increased from 4.4% to 7.7% between 2018 to 2020, SOS Children’s Villages continues to protect children and families across four areas of Estonia. The organization works through a child sponsorship program, in which people donate $36 per month to protect a child. The Estonian Association of SOS Children’s Villages currently supports approximately 200 children in foster homes and 151 family members within the Family Strengthening Program.
Helping Children in Need
The organization partners with local government and public donors to keep up with Children’s Villages’ upkeep and projects in Poltsamaa, Juuru, Keila and Ida-Virumma. The goal of SOS children’s villages is to protect orphans and children without proper childcare through foster homes while addressing family issues through the Family Strengthening Programme in Estonia.
SOS Estonia Child Rights Advisor Julia Kovvalenko told The Borgen Project that the Estonian local government provides “each child a certain amount of per capita money.” Kovalenko explained that “as long as we have a minimum number of children in the villages, then we have secured minimum budget to survive,” as further fundraising is necessary for the Family Strengthening program.
Estonia’s Response to Child Poverty and Unemployment
According to Statistics Estonia’s 2019 data, the absolute poverty rate was 1.6% for anyone under 17 years old in Estonia. The recent COVID-19 epidemic seems to be the cause of this statistic. As of September 2020, there were approximately 54,300 unemployed individuals across Estonia, which is an increase of 4,900 compared to April and June 2020. The increase in unemployment has been linked to less industry demand as there was a 45% decrease in Estonian visitors in October 2020 compared to October 2019.
Estonia has prepared digital technologies within education, healthcare and business long before COVID-19. These online education resources have allowed students to continue their education despite the global digital divide. The “Close the Digital Divides: The Digital Response to COVID-19” declaration is addressing the divide. It is supported by 69 countries.
COVID-19 Response and Estonia’s Family Strengthening Program
Since the spring COVID-19 lockdown, SOS Children’s Villages have focused on three elements of educating children. These elements include COVID-19 precautions, PPE and protecting children’s rights in 136 countries. The organization supports these elements by promoting donations to the organization’s global COVID-19 emergency relief fund. Kovalenko also told The Borgen Project how the SOS family agreements prohibit children from going to public places currently.
The SOS Family Strengthening Programme was initiated in 10 areas of Estonia. The program started in 2008 as an activity that can help solve family issues through the supervision and services of an SOS support worker. The program initiates for at least six months after a family contacts a social worker for voluntary commitment. During the COVID-19 lockdown, home visits had to transition to phone calls and online communication to keep track of family well-being near SOS Children’s Villages.
Preparing Young Adults to Leave SOS Care in Estonia
The Estonian Association of SOS Children’s Villages initiated its Austria-based project in Estonia in 2018. The Prepare for Leaving Care project developed training modules and published a guide to show young adults how to transition to independent living. The Smart Apps for Survivors application program runs as computer software for young adults to ask professionals in industries varying from real estate to legislation.
Kovalenko noted to The Borgen Project that the project was intended to conclude with a final national conference workshop for final program evaluation on March 30, 2020, in Milan, Italy, with participants from Italy, Estonia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. In response to COVID-19 restrictions, Kovalenko explained “what we basically did was save some funding to still have the seminar because we considered it to be a very good idea,” to complete the European Union co-funded project.
Donations from Estonian Organizations
The International Women’s Club of Tallinn (IWCT) secretary Birte Boer told The Borgen Project about how the IWCT has supported one SOS village family in Keila since 2009 by funding the annual family expenses of approximately €15,000. Boer clarified how an annual Christmas Bazaar, where IWCT partners with most Estonian international embassies to raise donations to the IWCT charity fund, helps raise these funds. The 15 Christmas Bazaar occurred on November 29, 2020, and raised approximately €18,200.
The president of IWCT, Nicole Dennis, notified The Borgen Project that the Bazaar functioned through a smaller outdoor event, an Osta website auction and phone donations. Dennis noted that “the cell phone companies are providing that service to us for no charge because it’s all for donations.” In a similar way, Boer also explained why the club sent food deliveries to its family “because they have higher costs that they usually don’t have” when Estonian schools provided student lunches.
SOS Children’s Villages support Estonian and Russian children by providing children homes with a resident house mother and staff to provide quality care. Through Estonian local government support and donors, the Estonian Association of SOS Children’s Villages has been able to protect children with foster families and programs despite challenges related to COVID-19.
– Evan Winslow