We must all play our part in helping keep children with their families
by Nicolae Ivăşchescu –Secretary of State, Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Protection
To take a child into care, and ensure that child remains well balanced and on a “normal” path in life requires significant time, effort and money. As a result, preventing a child being separated from its parents has a considerable impact both on the individual and on the child protection system as a whole.
Community awareness of its role and responsibilities in this field can only be achieved efficiently through the genuine involvement of the local authorities, within the legal framework in force. The authorities were obliged by law to set up public social welfare services, to ensure they become actively involved in community life.
Primary intervention is aimed at identifying at an early stage cases of potential risk for child separation from the family. Through a relationship based on communication and cooperation with the family and child, the local authorities must detect and evaluate the problems they are facing. The two parties should then work together to identify the most appropriate solutions, to ensure the child gets the best possible start in life.
One important aspect is the local authorities’ monitoring of children in the community. This can be a tool against violence, abuse or neglect, child economic or sexual exploitation, which involve children being immediately removed from their parents and taken into care.
Development of day care services in local communities, either state, private or in partnership, is a basic way to prevent children from being separated from their family. Such services can provide parents with vital support in raising and caring for their children. Whether run as day centres which children can attend when they are not in school or as advice centres for parents, prospective parents and children, they can help tackle various problems with which family members may be confronted.
However, institutional involvement should not be the sole response. Intervention by the relevant authorities must come in the context of the real empowerment of the community to which the child and family belong. Such an approach requires greater involvement from all child professionals, such as teachers, school advisers, doctors and psychologists, to encourage a healthy lifestyle and environment and facilitate children’s normal physical and mental development.
Drawing on teachers’ valuable experience and relating skills, for example by observing child behaviour, emotions and attitudes that might suggest problems at home, can help not only to spot early warning signs that could lead to the child being removed from its parents, but also to find appropriate solutions to family problems.
So establishing trust between the principal or class coordinator and the parents, and getting teaching staff to take a real interest in their children’s family life will serve both to furnish the child with a good education and to empower parents in raising and caring for the child. Through the various approaches and intervention from the teacher, in a group or individually with the parents, parents can be helped to understand how important it is to provide a stable home environment, full of warmth, respect and mutual understanding.
Teachers have particularly focused on children’s school life and academic performance, rather than on pastoral care. Neglect of a child’s social and family life may hinder that child’s development. Over time, this could lead to the child rejecting school, dropping out and adopting deviant behaviour such as running away from home due to family conflict.
The specific roles of other professionals who come into frequent contact with children and their families, such as doctors, school advisers and psychologists, are another important component in keeping families together. Intervention by specialists, even health or education professionals, must consider the child’s personality, relationships and environment. In most cases, changes in family relationships can lie behind disruptive behaviour and may result in psychosomatic symptoms.
All steps undertaken both by the local public authorities and child professionals must be primarily aimed at establishing the conditions to help children grow up in a harmonious family environment. The key element of any policy to keep families together must be cooperation, in its various forms – formal or informal, inter-institutional or interpersonal – between the groups involved.
Finally, the involvement of each community member, how they impact on the various aspects in the life of a child, will leave a footprint. Discrimination and indifference both have negative consequences on children, jeopardising their emotional and social development, and preventing them from becoming effective citizens. Every single one of us must respect the rights of the children and help create the optimum conditions for their harmonious development.