Governments in South East Europe embrace a new model for Child Care Systems
SOFIA, Bulgaria, 23 July 2007 – “I would describe it as a paradigm shift,” UNICEF Child Protection Specialist, Dita Reichenberg says referring to outcomes from the first regional consultation on child care system reform in South East Europe. “Compared to where we were five years ago, we are now really seeing progress for vulnerable children and the systems which support them.”
The consultation drew 120 key social welfare officials, including Ministers and Deputy Ministers, and NGO delegates from countries across the region. Representatives from the UN, the World Bank and the European Union also participated.
“For a long time social welfare issues weren’t a priority for Governments in the region, but since 2000 they have really begun to focus on this sector,” Reichenberg says. “What is happening now is that all Governments have embraced reform, agreeing that the old system of institutionalizing children was dehumanizing and counterproductive.”
In the opening ceremony Maria Calivis, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States told delegates: “There is no longer any questioning of the fact that the family is the most appropriate environment for children to grow up in, and that the focus of our support must be on families.”
“On-going reforms are beginning to show encouraging and at the same time remarkable transformations in this region. A compilation of reform examples from this region includes about 50 examples of promising reform practices and innovation. This is just a snap-shot of the wealth of information and experience that we can benefit from.”
Ms Calivis asked the delegates to address key questions: “Today where do we stand? How far have we come? What lessons have we learned? And is it fair to say that in every part of South East Europe attitudes towards child care systems have changed?”
Reichenberg says the Consultation took up the challenge and each Government participated in examining issues ranging from establishing a continuum of services from prevention to recovery, to gate keeping systems through to planning and budgets.
“The big policy shift that the consultation adopted is the individual case management approach. This is a milestone for reform, a massive change in thinking from an era when the State assumed all responsibility for the welfare of the vulnerable but did it in such a way that it categorized and institutionalized people, stripping them of their independence and dignity.”
“Each country over the past decade has left this approach behind without losing their commitment to the vulnerable. What we see is the individual is now the centre of the system’s response, and that means focusing on the family.”
The consultation was organised by UNICEF’s CEE/CIS Regional Office in conjunction with the Bulgarian Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, the World Bank and with the support of the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency. Among the countries and provinces represented were: Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, UN-administered Kosovo, FYR Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Turkey.
Maria Calivis says that now the challenge is to make sure the reforms have a visible impact on the lives of children. The data shows there is still some distance to go. The rate of children who are in the care system has increased consistently since 2001 and today there are as many as 126 000 children across South East Europe who are growing up in public care.
“Although more children now grow up in family-based care – precisely 44 per cent, 56 per cent are still placed in residential institutions. This ratio must change.”
Dita Reichenberg says a bonus from the Consultation was a strengthening of the consensus among international organizations to support systems reform in the social welfare sector.
“We are seeing a complementary approach by the major international players. UNICEF comes at the issue through a child rights perspective which puts the child at the centre of the response, the World Bank sees the issue through the prism of reducing poverty while the European Union seeks to ensure that there is social inclusion.”
“When you put these approaches together it sends a very powerful message of support to Governments undertaking such reform,” she says.
Looking to the future, Dita Reichenberg notes that feedback from the Governments attending the Consultation indicate the need for a platform to help provide them the tools to implement the reforms, such as standards, technical advice, information sharing and dialogue.”
“Perhaps we need to establish is a centre of excellence in the sub region to provide high level advice and support to Governments. The last thing we want to happen is a loss of momentum due to a lack of technical capacity in government.”
The UNICEF CEECIS web site is carrying full coverage of the Sofia Consultation including speeches, presentations, reports, the latest data and the conclusions. It can be accessed by clicking on the Consultation logo on the right, or on the main page of the CEECIS site.
Full web coverage of the Sofia Consultation