Child care reform
The rate of children in institutional care has on average been almost stagnant since 2000. But in 12 countries the rate increased between 2000 and 2007. This means that despite ongoing reforms, institutional care is becoming more frequent in more than half the countries.
A review of TransMonee data available for 16 countries of the region suggests that there are well over 31,000 children below three years of age placed in institutional care. Children living in residential care are desperately vulnerable to violence because they are separated from society and live in a closed environment. And the more closed that environment is, the greater the risk of violence and the smaller the chance that it will be reported.
Despite strenuous efforts over the years to bring these numbers down, institutional care remains the first resort, rather than the last, for many children at risk.
Children often end up in institutions because of family poverty or breakdown, violence in the home, disability and the sheer lack of social support systems. Between 1 and 9 per cent of children live in families officially registered as poor and extremely poor (1) and those from homes that are violent or dysfunctional as a result of alcohol or substance abuse are at high risk of being placed in formal care.
Only around five per cent of children in residential care institutions are actually true orphans. (2) The rest have living parents who might, in many cases, be able to care for them, given the right support.
UNICEF in action
We work with governments, civil society, individuals and the private sector to build a protective environment around each and every child. In a protective environment, everyone takes responsibility to protect children from violence, abuse and exploitation, from law-makers, the media and social services to parents and children themselves.
A protective environment includes national child protection systems and we push for legislation and build systems and services. Equity is at the heart of UNICEF’s response to child protection. This requires a strong focus on the most disadvantaged to ensure that they are the first in line for our interventions.
Our goals are clear. First, no child under the age of three should ever be in an institution. For this reason, we advocate for greater investment in family-based care and specialized child care services. Investing in services which can help children to develop their physical, cognitive and emotional development to their full potential what reforms of child care systems should be all about. Placement in institutional care of children below three years of age must be restricted to a short-term emergency measure or a planned stay not exceeding six months, and only as a last resort, when it is absolutely necessary and in the best interest of the child.
(1) Data available for Romania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Belarus, Russia and Azerbaijan
(2) Tobias D, The Continuum of Child Welfare Services: Principles and Practices for Central and Eastern Europe. Paper given at the regional seminar for Eastern and Central Europe, Sofia, Bulgaria, September/October 1992. Cited in Carter R (2005) Family Matters: A study in Institutional Childcare in Central and Eastern Europe.