A gender-focused analysis of structural and social precipitators to child institutionalization in Azerbaijan: A qualitative study

Emily Claypool & Leyla Ismayilova - Social Science & Medicine


Deinstitutionalization reforms in the post-Soviet region—the region with the highest rate of institutional care worldwide—are aimed at reducing the number of children in institutions. To develop context-specific gatekeeping strategies and prevent new cohorts of children from entering institutions, it is crucial to understand the local factors that contribute to institutional placement. Using a phenomenological approach, this qualitative study explores the contexts of institutional placement of children in Azerbaijan from their caregivers' perspectives. We conducted semi-structured qualitative interviews of the parents and primary caregivers (N = 26) of children placed in the institutional care system in Azerbaijan. Using systematic thematic analysis with inductive coding, we identified caregivers' reasons for placing children in the system, and inferred the life circumstances that led parents—women in particular—to be more likely to place their children in institutions. Our findings reveal multiple, gendered pathways that contribute to such placement. The majority of caregivers were single mothers, many of whom had divorced their husbands in response to domestic violence (often attributed to the husband's substance addiction). The strong stigma against divorce led women to be ostracized by close family members, often leaving them without economic and social support. Because of the limitations of public benefits available in the region, publicly-funded child institutions are often the only remaining way to provide education and care for their children. This qualitative study shows the importance of addressing the social and economic needs of parents, single mothers in particular, to prevent child institutional placement in the post-Soviet Caucasus region.