Psychologist Research in Tbilisi – Studying the consequences of the child welfare reform

(Bianca Ritter)

Nino Jorjadze was born and raised up in Tbilisi, Georgia. She is a psychologist and is dealing with different kind of early adverse developments. She finished her bachelor’s (psychology) and master’s degree (neopsychology) at the Tbilisi State University. Since she received a scholarship from DAAD, she also spent a two-years research stay at the chair of developmental psychology at the Friedrich-Alexander-University in Erlangen, Germany.  Currently, Ms. Jorjadze is doing a Ph.D. in the field of attachment and psychosocial development. Further, she was involved in setting up trainings for caregivers in the context of the child welfare reform. The child welfare reform was established in 1999 in order to drive back the predominant institutional forms of child care which were established during the Soviet’s occupation from 1921 to 1991.

Mrs. Jorjadze while observing (foster) families
Mrs. Jorjadze while observing (foster) families


B: Good morning, Ms. Jorjadze. What has the Child Welfare Reform implemented so far?

N: I am currently examining Georgian foster children. The Child Welfare Reform, starting from 1999, was mainly introduced to deinstitutionalize the child care system in Georgia. In 2000, a completely new form of child care emerged: the first foster care givers. In short, the reform introduced a transformation process from institutions into small group homes and foster families.

B: How many children are we talking about?

N: I guess, before the reform, there were around 5000 children in institutions and today I estimate around 30 children in state care.

B: How did you get involved in this process?

N: I was involved in the training of foster parents and recruitment and on-job training of small group home caregivers from 2009 to 2012. Later with the financial support of DAAD, university of Erlangen and Shota Rustaveli foundation, we started a research project involving two universities: Tbilisi State University and Erlangen-Nuremberg University. One of the problems is that trainings for foster parents are not mandatory, so we were just able to give them one training at the beginning of the project. Foster parents really do need more training and the government is currently trying to establish obligatory trainings.

B: What was the purpose of your research?

N: We were wondering how the bonds between foster parents and children develop and what are the factors influencing the development of the children in foster care.

B: Could you describe the study in more detail?

N: Of course, in the current study we investigate attachment development and psychosocial adaption of foster children. Children were between three to six years old. We study three groups of children: The first group comprised 30 children who were taken out of families due to adverse experience, for example, abuse or neglect. The second group with 31 children had experienced only institutional care and then we have one control group with 30 Georgian children who live together with their families. The collection of data is still in progress. We study if there are differences in attachment and psychosocial development between these groups.

B: How did you measure the variables?

N: In order to study attachment quality, we used the Attachment Q-Sort (AQS) (Waters & Deane, 1985) which consists of 90 items being rated by the observer. We used semi-structured home observations. In this context, we observe children and their foster mothers in different natural situations, for example, free play situations with standardized toys. The observation lasted around five hours.

B: Can you tell us an example item from the AQS?

N: Yes, for example, „Child readily shares with mother or lets her hold things if she asks to.“

B: What was the most difficult part during the observations?

N: Well, one of the greatest advantages is that you get information from the natural environment and everyday life interactions. But natural environments unfold a couple of problems: You are still only a „guest“ into other people’s homes. Other family members might use the room – Georgian families are huge and sometimes members from different generations are present. Then, it is „time for eating“, someone offers a cake to you or someone appears and tries to disturb the process. And of course, you respond and react to bystanders and the person who is asking curious questions about the camera. Sometimes it is kind of hard to control the situation. Yes, I think the biggest difficulty is to keep the situation structured and don’t get distracted.

B: How are the observations analyzed?

N: The results are analyzed immediately after the observations. A trained observer is rating the child’s behavior using 90 item of the instrument. As a result, we have a continuous measure of attachment security of a child. We also study attachment representations, attachment disorders, and behavioral and emotional problems of the children, using various instruments and methods like checklists, for example, the Child Behavior Checklist from Achenbach. Furthermore, we used interviews, storytelling etc. Besides, we gather information about children’s previous experiences by studying their case files. That is why we work together with social workers from the Social Service Agency.

B: Can you give us a short overview of your results? And do you regard the reform as successful?

N: The attachment security of the control group and the other two groups differ significantly, in favor of the control group. I think the reform is a huge step forward, Georgian child welfare system made a shift from institutional care to family based care. However, the system is still far from good. We really need trainings for foster parents. Children come to foster families with different needs and a lot of difficulties due to deprivation. Foster parents require more trainings to address those needs. On the other hand, we need more psychosocial services to support foster families in all areas. In Tbilisi, we have some supporting services but we need to spread them countrywide.

B: How do Georgians think about psychological projects in general?

N: Psychological treatment is a huge stigma in Georgia. Several years ago I used to work in a psychiatric clinic which included a center for children with different kinds of behavioral and emotional difficulties. A lot of families minded that they could not bring their children to the center because it was located in the psychiatric clinic and they did not want to be seen in the near of it. Even though, we are still facing stigma in our field of work. Psychological screening studies are more accepted than interventions. Prejudices are changing gradually but slowly.

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