Experts Finding Solutions to End Placing Children Under Three Years in Institutions
“Regardless of how good the accommodation in the residential institutions may be, it will never be good enough for a child when compared to raising it in a family, especially for a child under three years of age.“, experts agreed at the round table “Promoting Alternative Care and Accommodation of Children without Parental Care” organized by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare of Republika Srpska with the support of UNICEF and held in Teslić, beginning of April 2012.
The event was organized to launch the joint UNICEF OHCHR European Regional Offices call to action “End placing children under three years in institutions”. It calls States to ensure children below three years of age will not be placed in institutions, and meanwhile to develop viable and quality alternative to institutionalization of children – especially the ones below three years old. Early childhood (the period from 0 to 3 years old) is the most important developmental phase in life. The interactive influence of early experience and gene expression affect the architecture of the maturing brain. The institutionalization of infants is a serious concern because of the damaging effect it has on young child health and development. Impact on physicaland cognitive development, on emotional security and attachment, on cultural and personal identity and developing competencies can prove to be irreversible. Children who start behindtend to stay behind.
This meeting was a part of an effort to recognize problems and adjust recommendations for transformation of residential institutions for children without parental care, maintaining the dialogue between representatives of authorities, relevant experts in the area of social welfare and children rights and professionals working in the residential institutions for children without parental care. The new law on Social Welfare in the RS envisages numerous changes, one of them being , new methods of care for children without parental care and terminating previous practice of accommodating children younger than three years of age in the institutions.
“So as to implement the law in the best possible way, professionals who are directly responsible for its implementation, should jointly work to find the common and the best solutions. Implementation of the law in practice depends on the support from professionals in institutions,” emphasizes Ljubo Lepir, Deputy Minister of Health and Social Welfare in RS.
“I am absolutely opposed to accommodating children younger than three years of age in the residential institutions. At that age, a baby does not know who is her/his mother, however it gets attached to a person caring for it. Children in institutions can hardly get attached to anyone, since nurses are changing their shifts every eight hours,” says Svjetlana Blagojević, Director of Orphanage “RadaVranješević“ in Banja Luka, participant the round table. She further adds that she does not fear of system transformation for children without parental care and deinstitutionalization hence orphanage would transform into shelters for children, shelter for mothers or centre for children with problematic behaviour.
“In the last two years, we had significant increase in the number of cases where young parents leave their babies, and where care and accommodation is necessary. In case this type of residential care gets transformed, there would still be a need for shelter or residential centre where children would be accommodated prior to finding them foster families. The centre would also provide other services i.e. consultingparents, exploring the options of preventions, etc. There is also an idea to establish “mothers’ home – care centre for mothers” where we could accommodate young mothers who are in fear of their families rejecting them hence they are abandoning their children“, says Svjetlana Blagojević. She adds that the current situation is additionally complicated by the long adoption procedure and during this process, a child cannot be accommodated in the foster families, which are another type of alternative accommodation and care for children without parental care: “It is necessary to encourage fostering and adequately support foster families so as to provide children with better options and enable them to grow up in the best possible environment for them. We generally need to provide better support to families, since investments in children are never in vain, they are rather investment that will pay off in future,” highlights the director of the only orphanage – residential home for care for children without parental care in the Republika Srpska.
Cvijanka Rakić, psychologist from the Centre for Social Welfare in Bijeljina, says that there are no children younger than three years of age accommodated in the institutions in Bijeljina, but several children are accommodated in the foster families. “Foster families are good solution, however families very often do not pass necessary training and their expectations or difficulties are not usually well examined. Therefore we have cases of foster parents returning children after few days because they did not expect children who have various traumatic experiences“, says Cvijanka Rakić, emphasizing that the foster family concept is one of the best options however in need of further development. “We currently have thirty families interested in fostering children and so far twelve of them passed selection procedure and we accommodated children in those. We have several families who proved themselves over years and they helped in raising large number of children and were awarded for this“.
She emphasized that the current problem is to accommodate children outside of Bijeljina “children leaving to other cities are in danger of breaking off remaining ties they have with families. We try to organize meetings, contacts between them but this is hard to accomplish. Once a child is back after five to ten years to Bijeljina, he/she usually does not have contacts with a family or surroundings. Therefore it is good to support the concept of supporting relatives in providing foster care“, says Cvijanka Rakić.
“UNICEF is keen to support the country in its efforts to respond to the call to action, and to better develop alternatives to institutions for all children. Additionally there is a need for improving the prevention of separation from families’ system. Centres for Social Welfare, schools, health professionals and others could play a key role in making sure actions are taken and adequate services and support provided to families and children so that separation can be avoided. We believe a caring and supporting family is the best environment for a child to grow in a healthy adult”, says Paolo Marchi, Child Protection Specialist in UNICEF office for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Results on improving the system of protection of children without parental care in the RS were presented during the round table as well as the results of implementation of the Strategy for Improving Social Protection for Children without Parental Care with the Action Plan 2009-2014. We identified recommendations for the process of deinstitutionalization and prevention of further process of accommodating children in the institutions, promotion of foster families and other types of care for children based on the family model.
Text and photography by Almir Panjeta