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Call to action to end placing children under three in institutions gains momentum

SOFIA, 21 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.

In his opening speech, President Rosen Plevneliev said: “An investment in early childhood development is one which is well spent. The return on investment is especially big when we are talking about children at risk. Financial and social expenses in responding to these challenges later on will be much bigger.”

“When we ensure the full development of every child, we are also developing the capacity of the nation to become prosperous society,” he added.

"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.

“Thanks to the Republic of Bulgaria, we are able to share experiences here on how to move forward,” she added. “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:

  • Boost capacity-building and set standards of practice for maternity ward and paediatric hospital staff to support parents of newborns with a disability and parents from most vulnerable groups to prevent family separation;  Change legislation to restrict the placement of children under three in institutions, to be used only as a last resort and in the best interest of children.
  • Establish or further develop appropriate family-based responses and services to support to biological or foster care families for children below three years of age;
  • Eliminate all barriers preventing children deprived of parental care to be placed in foster care or other forms of family-based care;
  • Give priority to allocation of resources for appropriate local services allowing alternative solutions for children below three, with special attention to the needs of children with disabilities; This includes advocating for European Commission`s development funds - often used to support institutions - to help countries transition to family-based services.
  • Partnership with media and civil society to promote social inclusion of children deprived of parental care and of children with disabilities.
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.

For further information please see the conference page here or contact


UNICEF - In Bulgaria: Jacklin Tzocheva, + 359 88 868 3231, jzocheva@unicef.org  or in Geneva: Lely Djuhari, CEE/CIS Regional Office,  + 41 792 04 44 82, ldjuhari@unicef.org

 

 
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