Foster Care in Ukraine

Naomi Ludeman Smith

Sergei and Valya Sobko, from the Zolotonosha District of Ukraine, are unusually progressive thinkers in their church. They have a deep desire to help orphaned children, especially those who, when they turn 18, are usually on their own with no one to guide or support them. These orphan graduates have no help in pursuing an education and no support group. One of the outcomes of this situation is the serious problem of sex trafficking of desperate and directionless young women.

 Church Support for Foster Care

After talking about this Ukrainian need with an American couple, Paul and Linda Wicklund, the Sobkos began to explore the idea of a foster home. The social service model of foster care is a known entity in the United States, but it is not well known in Ukraine. With support from Calvary Baptist Church, a Baptist General Conference congregation nears. Paul, Minnesota, the Sobkos traveled to these. – Sergei in 1993 and Valya in 1999 - to explore various ways foster homes are structured and supported. Upon returning to their church in Ukraine, they looked for ways that foster care might be adapted to the Ukrainian cultural context. With financial help from the Shepherd’s Foundation, headed by Paul and Linda Wicklund, the Sobkos established the first foster home in their region. Sergei Sobko, in turn, founded foster care agency, New Hope, using his working relationship with nearby Kropivna Orphanage to place, to date, 12 teenage girls and boys with six church families in Cherkassy and Zolotonosha, Ukraine. While the children are placed in specific homes, the entire church actually helps support them, serving as an extended family for the foster children.

Joys and Sorrows

Over the years of their foster care ministry Sergei and Valya Sobko have recognized the importance of a loving Christian home and education for their foster children. They have experienced the joy of orphans given a new chance in life by means of a safe and loving environment. Several of their foster children have learned English well enough to serve as translators for American ministry teams and several attend university. At the same time, they hold out hope and continue to love other foster children who have not always made the best decisions in their young lives. Like other caring foster parents, Sergei and Valya experience pain when their charges follow a destructive lifestyle. In addition, biological parents who have lost their parental rights sometimes reenter their children’s lives in ways that disrupt rather than help them.

 The foster care facilitated by the Sobkosis serving as a prototype for the Ukrainian government as it becomes better able to support foster homes for an increasing number of needy children. The introduction of foster care in Ukraine illustrates the church’s role in creatively addressing a national need. It also provides amiable means for Western partners to encourage and support Ukrainians in their efforts to save and sustain their nation’s richest resource, their children. F

Naomi Ludeman Smith is associate professor of general studies, Bethel University, St. Paul, Minnesota