Public Defender Presents Updated Information on Ninotsminda Orphanage

On December 22, 2021, the Public Defender of Georgia presented a special report on the Ninotsminda Orphanage, which includes the findings of the monitoring of the orphanage after the events of spring 2021, as well as information on the rights situation of reintegrated children and those placed in other types of care. The results of the examination on the effectiveness of investigations into alleged crimes committed against children at the Ninotsminda Orphanage were also presented at the event.

As a result of the examination of the case, the Public Defender addressed the Prosecutor General of Georgia with a proposal to conduct an effective investigation into the alleged crimes committed against children at the Ninotsminda Orphanage. In particular, the Public Defender requested:

  • To combine the cases into one case
  • To change the classification of the cases
  • To change of investigative structural unit and supervising prosecutor
  • To dismiss the incumbent social worker
  • To conduct a number of investigative activities, including relevant examinations, to obtain information about telephone and other communications, to interview the orphanage staff (secular and religious), to obtain medical and other types of documentation, to apply special protection measures in specific cases, etc.

The Public Defender’s Office draw up a detailed document based on the results of the study of full materials of four criminal cases at the Samtskhe-Javakheti Police Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia.

The case materials show that the investigations contain significant shortcomings in terms of efficiency. The persons responsible for the investigation are often indifferent to the criminal actions committed against minors, delay investigative activities for years, do not classify the investigation properly, do not act in the best interests of children, act stereotypically, do not grant victim status to children, do not try to create a unified picture of the criminal scheme and fully expose the practice of corporal punishment in the Ninotsminda Orphanage.

The Public Defender’s Office believes that an effective investigation would create a basis for initiating criminal proceedings against all those responsible, regardless of their passive or active role.

In addition to assessing criminal investigations, the attention of the Office has still been focused on the events ongoing at the Ninotsminda Orphanage. The social workers of the State Care Agency have been working for six months to return children to their biological families or, if this is not possible, to transfer them to alternative care services.

Since the spring of 2021, a total of 12 juveniles have been transferred from the facility to the biological families, while 22 children have been placed in other forms of care, 15 of them in a small group home and 7 in a foster family. In the mentioned period, 2 children were returned from biological families to the Ninotsminda Orphanage, due to challenges relating to the readiness of biological families and their proper strengthening. As of November 22, 2021, 17 children are officially registered with the facility, 15 of whom actually live in the orphanage.[1] The social workers of the State Care Agency continue to work 24-hour shifts in the facility and to assess the needs of the minors.

It should be noted that with the involvement of the Public Defender's Office, caregivers are currently not allowed to stay in the school building during lessons and children have the opportunity to leave the institution and socialize. It is also noteworthy that seniors go to school independently.

However, the Ninotsminda Orphanage still faces a number of very important challenges, including communication between agencies and institutions working with children, professional training of caregivers, arranging documentation, and researching and meeting the individual needs of children. To date, the orphanage has not updated its regulations, the facility does not have an updated individual development plan for all children, while caregivers do not have information about the activities listed in the plans of children with special educational needs.

It is concerning that one child with disabilities is still enrolled in the facility. When the Public Defender’s authorized representatives and the public were informed that all children with disabilities had been removed from the facility, two juveniles with disabilities were actually still living in the facility, one of whom was transferred to another form of care only on September 24, 2021, while the other is still living in the orphanage.

The above is exacerbated by the fact that the documents of many juveniles living in the institution directly mention the need for the involvement of a psychologist and even a psychiatrist in one case, which has not been ensured by the State so far. In this regard, it should be noted that the psychologist was found and hired by the management of the orphanage itself, and she has visited the facility only twice in the last month.

Challenges relating to the exchange of information and communication between social workers working with children complicate the timely implementation of planned activities and negatively affect the interests of minors. In particular, although one of the children in a conversation with a social worker expressed a desire a few months ago to be interviewed about alleged violence in the orphanage, the child's legal representative has not contacted the law enforcement nor does he have information on whether another social worker has done so.

The multi-month continuous monitoring allows the Public Defender's Office to assess the dynamics of the measures taken by state agencies to improve the rights situation of children of Ninotsminda Orphanage. It is clear that despite the urgency of the issue and the 24-hour work of social workers over a 6-month period, the State has failed to assess the individual needs of all children or to provide essential services. It was not possible to transfer all children from a large residential facility to an alternative, family-like environment. This violates the rights of children in state care, contradicts their interests and is an example of ineffective policies of the state agencies to protect children and provide a child-centered environment.

The Public Defender's Office will continue to actively monitor the ongoing investigations and developments around the Ninotsminda Orphanage, and will provide additional information about the results to the public.

[1] Two children have already been transferred and the relevant procedure is now being carried out to officially register their transfer.

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