Belarusian Alumna Develops and Runs Family Center She Modelled on the U.S. Organization

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Wednesday, December 8, 2021
Olga Matukhova, USAID/Belarus Community Connections alumna, created the Family Support Center
Photo provided by Olga Matukhova

Many parents have to grapple with children's lies, theft, aggressiveness, hyperactivity or excessive shyness, and they do not always understand how to cope with such difficulties. Olga Matukohva and her team implemented Mentorships for Adoptive and Foster Parents project, which provided effective support to foster parents, adoptive parents, and their children. 

Olga Matukhova, then a psychologist at the Minsk City Family and Children Social Services Center, took part in the USAID Community Connections professional and cultural exchange program in 2014. During her three-week internship in St. Louis, Missouri, Olga studied how American professionals helped families in crisis as a result of domestic violence. Now Olga runs Family Support Center, which not only provides comprehensive services to families, but also works with teenagers and young people, in order to form responsible behavior, prevent violence, and promote gender equality.

Learning the best American practices during her USAID Community Connections experience, Olga was incredibly impressed by partnerships of various agencies in their efforts to assist domestic violence survivors. "The police, the judiciary, health, and education institutions – all work together to pursue one goal – to help women and children exposed to domestic violence," Olga recalls. "We visited different agencies, and each was part of a large unified mechanism to combat domestic violence." 

Olga was well aware of the problem of domestic violence in Belarus. She already had experience in providing psychological support to women and children who survived domestic violence. Olga also realized that the problem is rooted in the legacy culture of post-Soviet societies, in particular, that domestic violence is acceptable in the minds of both women and men, who in turn model this behavior for their children. The exchange in the USA was an opportunity for Olga to learn about the innovative programs for domestic violence prevention benefitting all family members, as well as to get acquainted with rehabilitation tools and survivor support programs. 

After returning  from America, Olga adapted the materials of her American counterparts and created a "Safety Package" memo for women who have suffered from domestic violence. The package provides information on how to recognize domestic violence, what makes it different from а conflict, and offers a safety action plan for four different stages: (1) when survivors stay with their abusers; (2) when they intend to leave the abuser; (3) when they have stopped communication with the abuser; and (4) when the survivor receives protection from a relevant institution. In addition, it describes innovations in the Belarusian legislation (Article 32 of the Law No. 122-3 of 04.01.2014 "On the Basics of Crime Prevention Activities" provides for a protective order for domestic violence situations), and contains contact information of all Belarusian centers that offer support in such cases. A step-by-step action plan for requesting such support also became a part of the package. 

In 2015, Olga focused on the need to offer comprehensive professional support to families, and created a non-governmental Family Support Center. Olga prototyped her local family center after the Jewish Family and Children's Services in St. Louis, which she familiarized herself with  during her USAID Community Connections exchange. Community Connections alumni Natalia Kobrinets and Tatiana Naumovich joined Olga in her efforts to create the Family Support Center. One of the priorities set by the alumni team was working with teenagers and young people.

In 2020, with the support of the U.S. Embassy Small Grants Program, Olga and her team implemented Mentorships for Adoptive and Foster Parents project, which provided effective support to foster parents, adoptive parents, and their children. The project created Parenting School groups that engaged over 50 members of its target groups: adoptive parents, foster parents, and state-employed substitute parents. These groups proved to be an effective tool for developing successful parenting skills among participants. Many parents have to grapple with children's lies, theft, aggressiveness, hyperactivity or excessive shyness, and they do not always understand how to cope with such difficulties. The training focused on developing the skills of communication and upbringing foster children and children who have been under the care of the state for a long time. The project also included supervision sessions held by the Center's specialists for the staff of educational institutions in Minsk and the Minsk region who work with foster families. In addition, the project team developed booklets with information on the most pressing issues faced by parents today, such as defining personal boundaries, identifying bullying at school, digital hygiene, and timely sexual education. In order to ensure sustainability and make the socio-psychological support more accessible for foster families, the project team trained facilitators for peer support groups for adoptive and foster parents. A peer group is one of the most effective tools that helps more experienced adoptive and foster parents share their knowledge and skills with the new parents who are just making their first steps in parenting.

Since the start of the Community Connections program in 2006, 775 Belarusian professionals, just like Olga, have explored American best practices, as well as experienced American culture in various U.S. communities. Every year, USAID provides an opportunity for 60 Belarusian professionals to develop leadership and entrepreneurship skills, and to contribute to the social and economic development of Belarus.

Last updated: August 08, 2022

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