The term ‘euro-orphans’, used to define the social orphanhood, entered the Polish terminology after our country joined the European Union. It means a longer lack of one or two parents in a child upbringing. What social and psychic results are caused by this orphanhood?

Trips to seasonal work abroad in the countries of Western Europe have always been popular. Life standards in Poland and in developed countries of Europe and the United States differed substantially. A wicket to a better life was leaving Poland for work which made it possible to earn good salaries which were meticulously kept for a different life in Poland. However, these journeys were not fortified by a wall of provisions often impossible to overcome. For many people a passport to the economical paradise remained in the sphere of dreams. The situation changed with the moment of joining the European Union by Poland and opening borders. A mass migration of Poles for work started. Over 2 million compatriots got into exile. Some emigrations are temporary but many Poles were building their new home abroad. Prof. Krystyna Iglicka-Okólska, a rector of the Łazarski University envisages that during five years other 500-800 thousand people will leave the country. The Main Statistics Office data show that about 1.6 million Poles are have been abroad for over a year. We are in the lead of euro-immigrants. We are dealing with euro-orphanhood more and more frequently. The National Educational Ministry defined this phenomenon as deconstruction of main family tasks, and this is caused by: passing over cultural values, emotional supporting, learning to live in the society. As the key period of building the primal relation with parents is thought to be the first three years of a child’s life. Then there appears an emotional safety based on love and closeness of a parent. And this is the basis of suitable social relations in the future years of a child’s life, and later – an adult’s life.

Social orphans

Men mostly decide to go abroad to work there, but also mothers tend to leave their family homes more and more frequently, leaving their children under care of fathers. However, a real problem is when a father and a mother are going abroad, leaving their children under care of grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends, and even – in extreme situations – leaving their children in a children’s care institution.

The Foundation European Law has carried out surveys for the first time concerning euro-orphanhood in 2008. Five years ago, it was estimated that there were 110 thousand such children. The surveys comprised children coming from pathological families, touched by poverty, social violence, having problems with the administration of justice, registered in pedagogical centres. Therefore, it is estimated that the real number of euro-orphans is much higher.

According to statistics, 9 thousand boys and girls are brought up without their fathers, 2.5 thousand of them without their mothers, and 8 thousand of them without their either parents. In 2007, because of the trip of parents abroad, 1299 children got to orphanages. Most children touched by this kind of orphanhood are in the provinces of Western-Pomeranian part of Poland, Świętokrzyskie and Lower-Silesian part of Poland. A lot of people leaving for work in the West come from the provinces of: Warmy-Mazury, Podkarpacie and Podlaskie.

- My son-in-law lost his work a few years ago – says Mrs. Halina from a small village in the Western-Pomeranian province. In the nearby town his workplace was liquidated. People were fired. My son-in-law is very smart. He can do everything, so he did not complain about any lack of work in the beginning. But when people got poorer, orders happened very rarely. My daughter has been unemployed for a few years, except for an occasional temporary work – she was cleaning somebody’s house or babysitting someone’s child. She did not have any money to get by recently. My son-in-law left for Holland two years ago. A few months ago he took my daughter there. I agreed to take care of their three children. Ania is 12 years old and helps me a little with the younger children, because Michaś and Marzenka are still very little – 3 and 5 years old. It is not easy for me because I am 75 years old, my husband is 80. But we could not refuse to help the children or let them die of hunger. The children miss their parents. When my daughter came for Christmas, Michaś did not recognize his mum and was running away from her while crying, and Marzenka asked recently if she could call me ‘mum’. Ania has worse marks at school because we are not able to keep an eye on her learning.

The lack of parents in a little child’s life is a big emotional havoc. Parents are the whole world for the child. And suddenly, this whole fundament of safety becomes unstable. And there are even journeys of mothers for work abroad and they leave their a few-month baby.

However, somebody would be wrong to think that older children are not exposed to such a danger after their separation with their mother or father. Dr. Danuta Morańska, a pedagogue from the Higher School of Business in Dąbrowa Górnicza thinks that ‘regardless of a child’s age, the presence of parents is very essential in his good development. Although it might seem that the older child is, the more support from them the child needs – but it is not so. Young people have a period of revolt in their life, and at this time, the sense of safety which parents can provide him with, is very valuable. It is a parent who is to be a support for a child, give him the sense of safety, and help him start adult’s life. These are parents from whom a child should learn what is good and what is bad’.

Mostly social orphans feel grudge to parents for leaving them for a longer time. Today 24-year-old Łukasz says that he does not know his parents: - They left when I was 12 years old. They left me under the care of my grandparents. At that time my grandmother was ill. She was not able to take care of me. She died soon. A year later my grandfather died. However, it did not move my parents. I got under the care to my cousin’s, whose family situation changed so much that I had to go to her friend’s mum. And it was so for a few times. It is obvious how it influenced my psyche, my school marks. When I reached the age of 17, my parents decided that I could live on my own. Then the worst started. I became crazy about my freedom. Constant loud parties, alcohol, drugs. If it had not been for my girlfriend with whom I fell in love, I would have fallen down onto the bottom of my life. It was only her for whom I broke with this style of life. I returned to school. I passed my secondary school leaving examination later than I should have, and started studies. During my last holidays spent with my parents in Tenerife I understood that I had nothing in common with my mother and father. We were completely strangers to one another. We had completely different values. We had nothing to talk about. It is a waste of time to spend with such people, even it is Tenerife.

Not all experiences are so extreme. Today many adults among young people do not feel grudge to their parents for their absence. There are arguments that it was better to happen so. They do not live in poverty. They can afford everything now – private studies, their own flats, a good car. They would do the same with their children. It would seem that everything is all right. The separation with their relatives did not leave any scar in their lives. They are consistent and ready to undertake the rat chase which is so fashionable now. And if one talked with them longer, he would see that an ideological and moral emptiness flows out of them. A kind of hierarchy rules on their world. The supreme good is money. There is no place for sentiments, love and similar nonsense. If you want to be somebody, you must be ruthless for others. How to build the family, create social relations with such a burden?

Dangerous psychical consequences

The dangerous consequences of the euro-orphanhood are described in her work ‘Social orphanhood’ by AlicjaSzymborska. The author states that such orphanhood is a participation of even children whose one of parents is leaving home. Such children often fall in depression. They lose the sense of safety and believe that nobody cares about them. Children deprived of both parents experience trauma with doubled force. Little kids excessively cling to adults, and the so called, emotional softness is very dangerous – a child is looking for closeness and may become an object of pedophilic behaviours. Apart from even pathological dangers, a rejected little kid will isolate himself from the others in the future. It leads to indifference, emotional coldness, hostility, apathy, non-discipline, fear of emotional engagement. There are personality disorders. A child has not got any examples of a mother or a father. Terms such as ‘family’ or ‘home’ do not have any references. In order to fill in emptiness, a young man is looking for a community, is looking for his acceptance in various groups. Finally, being fearful of being excluded from his environment, he is ready to do everything in order to deserve acceptance. Hence, there are pathologies, in extreme cases, leading later to legal offenses.

A few years ago, there was a known judicial process of an 18-year-old man who had killed his grandfather with a hammer during a quarrel, and, having committed the crime, he went for a disco with his girlfriend. On the following day, in order to blur the traces of the crime, he set fire to the flat with the dead body. The teenager was a euro-orphan brought up by his grandparents. His parents have been engaged in gaining euro for years and they lost their contact with their son.

Troubles at school and offices

A child experiencing trauma because of the temporary separation of the family, has mostly troubles at school. Playing truant, not being prepared for lessons – this all reflects in the final marks. A child being left to himself, usually becomes worse in learning. Carers provide him with basic living means, but they forget about controlling his learning.

Troubles are also with children coming back from foreign journeys. A different style of teaching, based on different curriculums, contribute to difficulties of adaptation in the Polish school. Ilonka left for Ireland with her parents, after finishing her fourth year in the primary school. Parents with the girl returned to Poland. The child started her education in the second year of the junior high school. She finds it very hard to get adapted in the new curriculum. In Ireland she did not learn biology, physics, chemistry, geography as separate subjects but as one subject containing elements of these all. She does not understand names of processes or reactions, about which a teacher says, because she only knows English names.

Curriculums and school marks are not the only difficulties which are by children of parents going abroad. Social orphans have unregulated legal status. Parents, going abroad in search for work, do not usually choose a legal carer, and it means that their child will have difficulties with registering at a school, with some surgeries in hospitals, with gaining referrals to specialist clinics. Therefore, in the opinion of Piotr Bajor, the chairman of the Foundation the European Law, it is necessary to do correlation of actions of the government and non-governmental organizations, in order to impose a duty on parents to assign legal carers, make it easier to collect alimonies from abroad.

A journey abroad and leaving a child, even under the care of the most loving grandparents – is last resort. In order to alleviate consequences of this separation, a permanent contact with a child is necessary. There are telephones, calls on Skype, letters, visits in Poland. A child should have an arranged schedule of such visits, should know that at the definite time his mother or father will talk to him. Such ‘iron’ contacts will allow him to maintain his sense of safety at least at the minimum dimension, so essential for a suitable development of child’s personality.


"Niedziela" 51-52/2013

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: