Alexander Belenky / The St. Petersburg Times
Nadezhda is one of the young people who work at the Grand Hotel Europe as part of a scheme to help the underprivileged.
St. Petersburg has from 3,000 to 10,000 street children but their number is gradually decreasing, experts have said.
“It’s hard to count these children and hard to give exact statistics. However, we have noticed that the number is decreasing,” Vera Klimova, coordinator of work with neglected children at Innovations Center, said at a press briefing dedicated to the problem last week.
Klimova said that in the Nevsky and Admiralteisky districts where help for street children is available the number of street children has decreased significantly.
“However, you can still see quite a number of them at Prospekt Prosveshcheniya or in the Kupchino district,” in the north and the south of the city respectively, Klimova said.
Wednesday’s press briefing was attended by a number of agencies dealing with street children, an often hidden problem that the authorities have struggled to tackle.
Maria Chugunova, a social worker from the city’s Children’s Crisis Center, said the decreasing number of street children could be due to measures taken to prevent family neglect, the appearance of family support centers, and pro-active help from the city administration.
Chugunova said every year the Children’s Crisis Center receives about 7,000 calls on its hotline.
Children complain about family conflict, violence, addictions and serious illnesses. The center offers help to children if they leave home, or are thrown out, via means such as the Social Rehabilitation Center for Street Children located in the Nevsky District.
The Children’s Crisis Center also has a mobile school where children, regardless of their age and education, can attend classes.
A special “night hostel” offers beds to teenagers who can’t live at home or have run away from children’s homes.
There are also day-care centers where children can receive subsidized food twice a month to help out their families.
“We don’t give the food packages more often than this in order to keep families active and doing something for themselves,” Chugunova said.
The Children’s Crisis Center caters for autistic children and children with other special needs by providing excursions to museums and day trips.
Klimova said the Innovations Center has worked with the Admiralteisky district to support the Ostrov (“Island”) day center that offers social, medical, psychological, and family rehabilitation to children in need.
The family rehabilitation program offers psychological and material help to parents as well.
“Sometimes those parents just need to believe in themselves, or to be sent to medical establishments to be cured of addictions,” Klimova said.
The center also takes children to summer camps.
Ostrov prepares youngsters for adult life by encouraging school attendance and has collaborated with companies such as the Grand Hotel Europe, IKEA, and Gillette to provide internships and work placements for former street children.
Innovations Center organizes street patrols two or three times a week to reach out to children living rough.
“However, all our experience shows that to achieve real success, every child needs an individual adult to take care of them,” Klimova said.
“I think that in future the system of shelters and day centers should be changed to placing children with adoptive families,” she said.