Prevention of placement of children with disabilities in institutions
Data on children in residential care in Bosnia and Herzegovina are discouraging, especially when looking at the increase of number of children in residential care (especially the number of children under 3 years old) in the last decade. During this period, many other countries in the Balkans and Eastern Europe have made substantial progress towards ensuring family based care, rather than residential care, for children without primary caregivers. Even more alarming is the fact that 67% of children in institutions are children with disabilities. Many of these children have one or two parents and few of them need to be confined into round-the-clock institutional care.
In addition to being a very expensive option and detracting resources from more sustainable forms of care, residential institutions are harmful for children’s development and future prospects. Children in residential institutions often fail to form consistent attachment to their caregivers, indispensable for the emotional development of younger children in particular. In institutions, children are also more vulnerable to abuse and violence. Furthermore, children in residential institutions usually gain fewer educational qualifications, which, compounded with the stigma associated with having grown up in an institution, may significantly hamper their educational and employment prospects later in life.
There is an urgent need to reduce the number of children in institutions and to promote family-based care in BiH, as part of an overall child care reform. It is essential to focus on prevention of separation of children with disabilities from their families, through ensuring adequate support to children and their families. In this regard, the residential institutions and the Centres for Social Work should play a key role and their staff needs to receive additional support and capacity-building in dealing with the challenges of transforming the residential institutions into community-based services. The transformation process has to be accompanied by relevant by-laws and individual action plans for each institution and individual treatment plans for each children.
A similar approach has been followed in the area of Justice for Children, under a Project funded by SDC / Switzerland, Sida / Sweden, and UNICEF. As part of a broader justice sector reform, UNICEF, SDC, Sida and the relevant Government authorities have been promoting alternatives to institutionalization, family-based care and reintegration into society.