The overall research objective of the thesis is to analyse the causal relationship between, on the one hand, the late Soviet and early post-Soviet societal development, and, on the other, the evolving street-children problem. In terms of timeframe, the thesis mainly explores developments in Russia from 1985 (when Gorbachev came to power) until 1996 (when the post-Soviet framework conditions for child neglect became virtually irreversible as a result of the presidential elections of that year). However, several of the examinations of concrete child-neglect determinants will narrow their perspective to include only the period from 1987 (when Gorbachev embarked on radical reforms) or occasionally from a later point of time (due to lack of available sources).
According to Soviet and post-1991 Russian legislation alike, the pivotal role in child-protection work in Russia was assigned to the Commissions for the Affairs of Minors (Komissii po Delam Nesovershennoletnikh, KDN). This child protection institute thus acquires double actuality for the thesis. First, in its capacity as coordinating organ for all other agencies involved in prevention of child neglect, as well as in its capacity as agency assessing individual child-neglect cases, the KDN institute is definitely within the scope of the thesis. Second, as a societal institute spanning the Soviet and post-Soviet periods in Russia, the Commissions for the Affairs of Minors conveniently provides a topic for evaluating the effect of the politico-organisational (i.e. systemic) changes on the country’s child protection system. Therefore, while the scope and magnitude of the evolving street children phenomenon (“child-neglect scale”) represents one research topic (i.e. longitudional focus area of the thesis) the changing effectiveness of KDN (“KDN capacity”) constitutes a second research topic.
As far as the issue of continuity or rupture from Soviet to post-Soviet reality is concerned, the role of the Communist Party (in the thesis referred to as CPSU or Party) is undoubtedly of crucial importance. The Party was ultimately and solely responsible for the organisation of all aspects of Soviet society, child-protection work and KDN included. If the chaos and anarchy that increasingly characterised the late Soviet era, and in particular post-Soviet Russia, is largely associated with the organisational vacuum that arose from the rapid and unredressed disappearance of the Party from the historical scene, a logical consequence of the collapse of the USSR should also be an enfeebled KDN. Focusing on the politico-organisational aspects of the break-up of the Soviet Union, the specific research objective of the thesis will therefore be to assess the assumption that the weakening and eventual dissolution of the CPSU contributed to an accelerating disorganisation of KDN, thereby sharpening the effects of the socio-economic downturn on Russian child protection.