Estonia’s children victims to economic crisis

TALLINN Kaja Richter-Kruusamagi shares a 28 square meter home with her husband and three youngest children, in the Northern Tallinn district. A little over two years ago, in the midst of renovating her home, trouble hit. Her husband had to leave work because he wasn’t getting paid, then he ran into medical difficulties, and Kruusamagi had to leave her psychology degree unfinished because she couldn’t afford the education anymore.

By Veronika Gorlova

Living room. Turned into a bedroom at night. Two kids sleep on the couch and one on a futon. Photo: Veronika Gorlova

Renovations in her home were put to a halt, and their small apartment has been left untouched. There are no doors inside their home. Instead make-shift curtains are used as dividers for the rooms and closets. Cardboard boxes are used as substitutes for drawers in the closets.

Kaja Richter-Kruusamagi and her husband sleep in the only bedroom, that is also being used as an office. At night, the living room is transformed into a bedroom for her three children. Two of them sleep on the couches while the coffee table is moved in order to make room for the third, who sleeps on a futon. She says it’s good that her oldest son isn’t living with them anymore because the apartment is crowded enough as it is.

The bad news came in the midst of a financial crisis that has affected many European countries. For Estonia one major toll of the crisis is the rise in child poverty. A recent report by the Chancellor of Justice Office said that in 2010 more than 63,000 lived in absolute poverty or at risk of poverty. That’s 26 percent of all Estonians under the age of 18.

Andra Reinomagi, an advisor for the Children’s Rights Department in Estonia says that the media is interested in what a poor child looks like, but child poverty doesn’t only have one face.

Closet. Drawers are made from cardboard boxes. Photo: Veronika Gorlova

“Many people think families in poverty are struggling with things like addiction, but there are many children in Estonia whose parents have a good education but have lost their means of support,” says Andra Reinomagi.

Astrid Uukivi is a single mother, raising three kids. Unlike some mothers she has a job working at a local kindergarden. However, because she doesn’t have a degree, her monthly salary is €400. She says that in the winter half of that goes towards rent, and the rest is used to pay bills.

“There’s almost nothing left for even essentials,” says Astrid Uukivi, who has been getting help from the food bank ever since it started two years ago.

Social lives are important

Her biggest concern for her kids, however, is about their social lives. She worries about not having enough money to pay for things like school trips.

Andra Reinomagi says that child poverty can have negative effects on social integration.

“Of course it’s important that these children get enough food, but having free time opportunities and making friends is just as crucial to their development,” says Andra Reinomagi

Kaja Richter-Kruusamagi says that she’s concerned for her twelve year old boy because he’s the most socially oriented.

“I don’t want him to have to apologize because he asks to go to the dance, or wants to take singing lessons,” she says.

Direct help to children

 The report highlights the biggest challenge for Estonia is to get help directly to children instead of through family subsidies.

Reinomagi says the social circle around the child is very important. For example, better cooperation between the school, doctors and child protection services is key to a child’s development, and it has been improving in the past couple of years.

“Help should go to a family before the situation gets bad, unfortunately when the signs of poverty are visible in a child, most of the time, the situation has been going on for a long time,” says Andra Reinomagi.

One of the things her department has done is set up a free breakfast program at schools for all kids. Andra Reinomagi says this makes sure to feed those children who need it without pointing them out to their peers. The Justice Chancellor’s Office is also proposing a new measure to give free psychological help to poor families.

  • Income poverty is often connected to poor health, inadequate housing, and having poor access to health services, social services and childcare services
  • Children growing up in poor families are more likely to do poorly in school, or drop out early
  • Disadvantages, particularly educational, are inherited from one generation to the next
  • Children growing up in large families of three or more kids, or with single parents are at a higher risk of poverty and social exclusion

(Tackling Child Poverty and Promoting Social Inclusion of Children in the EU, European Commission 2007)

 

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