Call to action to end placing children under three in institutions gains momentum
SOFIA, 22 November 2012 – Eastern European and Central Asian governments are joining forces to boost a growing movement to support vulnerable families and end placing children under three in institutions.
At least 1.3 million children in the region are separated from their families often because of poverty or their families` inability to cope due to stressful circumstances, reveals the study of Children under the age of three in formal care in Eastern Europe and Central Asia: a rights-based regional situation analysis. It was launched today at a regional ministerial conference in Bulgaria.
Out of the 1.3 million, an estimated 31,000 placed in institutions are under the age of three. They are at risk of severe developmental delays when left in such form of care at this very early phase.
The two-day conference, attended by delegates from 20 countries, is taking place under the patronage of the President Rosen Plevneliev, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy in collaboration with UNICEF. Its aim is to share experiences and promote mutual learning so governments can create and implement policies giving stronger support to families. Countries can work together to prevent the placement of children, particularly the youngest, into institutions.
Romania, Serbia and Croatia are the only three countries in the region which have approved laws to prevent infants being sent into institutions. More countries are expected to do so following this conference.
“We will use social protection mechanisms, family planning, early identification of abandonment risk, training of social workers, life skills education, parenting education and outreach services to bring support to the most marginalized families. We will extend foster services for children under 3 and for children with disabilities – increasing allowances to help foster parents to handle the additional costs involved”, stated the Minister Buliga.
"The Convention of the Rights of the Child recognizes how important it is to provide support to families so that children can grow up in a family environment. The family can be the most nurturing place for a child," said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
“Our region has challenges but also useful knowledge on how to overcome them. We aim to create a network of solidarity where countries work together to give children the best start in life.
UNICEF Regional Child Protection Advisor Jean Claude Legrand expressed concern that in some countries children under the age of three are up to three times more likely to be placed in institutions than older children. Some 30 per cent of children living in institutional care have disabilities - in one country, the figure was as high as 60 percent. They rank among the most stigmatized of all children. That is why social protection policies need to focus on the youngest and most vulnerable children.
“Too many barriers are depriving the children who most need help from growing up in a family. More child-care support services interlinked with family welfare services and efforts to remove unnecessary legal obstacles preventing foster families to act as carers would help improve the situation,” he added.
The study underlines that current resources spent on looking after children deprived of parental care can be better invested in multisectoral and tailored family-based services.
It also emphasizes that institutional care should be used only when strictly necessary as an existing body of knowledge shows that for every three months spent within such an institution, a child`s physical development was delayed by one month. Children are also more likely to suffer from an inability to bond with parents and their brains are likely to deteriorate.
Governments are urged to:
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2010), and the Guidelines on the Alternative care of Children (2009), have reinforced the obligation of States to develop community-based alternatives to institutionalization. Last year, in the European Parliament, UNICEF and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights called on governments in the region to restrict placement of children in institutions.
Click here download fact sheet on the issue.