|A woman helps children with their homework at a special family-style home for abandoned children near Bucharest.|
Romania is a country of transition. Major reforms are underway, particularly in the social sector. UNICEF supports the Government’s effort to ensure that the most vulnerable groups of children and families are included in these reforms.
Due to the impact of poverty, violence, corruption, diseases and the legacy of communist regime, hundreds of thousands of Romanian children were separated from their parents or families. Many of these children are challenged with diabilities. During the seperation, they might be abused, sexually exploited, trafficked, or submitted to child labour. Also during their seperation from their families, these children often live in institutions because their families are unavailable, unable or unwilling to care for them.
UNICEF believes that universal child protection is the right of every child, and that the best environment for raising children is within a strong, loving supportive family. Violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation threaten children throughout their life. Children without family care are particularly vulnerable to being hurt, neglected, abused and exploited. UNICEF supported the child protection program in Romania to keep children in their own families, or when this isn’t possible, to place them within loving alternative families. The goal was to ensure the well being of those children who would otherwise be in institutional care, on a family-environment.
In the mid-1990s, there were approximately 100,000 children in Romania residing in institutions. The government structures and responsibilities were overlapping or left service gaps, thus services for children were limited to residential care. Big institutions with a large number of “clients” focused on “categories” of children instead of their special, individual needs. UNICEF has provided technical and financial assistance in supporting Romania’s reform of the child protection system to establish more family-type care centres and remove children from institutions.
The reform process, which began in 1997, has focused on four areas: 1) the reform of the legal and regulatory framework governing the protection of children’s rights; 2) the decentralization of administrative and financial responsibility from the central
Government to the local county; 3) the promotion of and community-based services as alternatives to the residential care; and 4) increasing the role and participation of civil society and non-governmental organizations to child welfare activities.
The reform has included the creation of a network of Maternal Assistants – professional full-time foster care-givers through programmes that were developed and implemented by non-governmental organizations. In 1998, some 450 children were cared for by Maternal Assistants, rising to over 5,000 children by 2000. Over the same period, the number of children in foster family care rose from 16,500 to over 23,300.
Beginning in 2000, UNICEF supported the Government of Romania in its efforts to expand the policy of community based alternative services for children with disabilities and to promote their integration into mainstream schools. New services such as mother and baby centres and day care and rehabilitation centres were offered for children with disabilities.
Over the past few years, there has been a reduction of children with disabilities living in residential care institutions and an increase of those living with families. To ensure their protection and adaptation to the family environment, social workers have been trained to monitor foster care families looking after children with disabilities. During the 2001-2002 school year, more than 18,000 children with disabilities were integrated into regular schools.
From 2001 to 2003, the number of children residing in institutions has decreased 25%, the number of children protected in substitute families has increased 43%; the number of foster parents has increased from 3,228 to 9,170. Over 90 large institutions were closed, and the number of family-type centres, that are designed to provide children wioth a family-environment, has increased from 131 to 394. More than 50% of children seperated from their families lived in a family environment in 2003, as compared to 20% in 1997.
Through the reform of child protection system and the nationwide “Leave No Child Out” campaign, UNICEF has fostered partnerships with Government, non-governmental organizations and other development agencies. The Romania case is a successful example of UNICEF’s work in child protection with an emphasis on the family environment.