Legislative Proposal Background and Figures on Institutionalisation
The number of children benefiting from alternative care – such as foster care or guardianship – grew from 0 to 38,000 by the end of December 2013. As a result, Romania’s rate of institutionalised children is now at 600/100,000 (ranking in the middle of the pack in Central and Eastern Europe). 735 children under 3 years of age still live in institutions. Almost 1/3 of them have been identified as children with disabilities.
In the past 60 years, many studies have documented the importance of the first three years of life for the child’s cognitive, psychological, emotional and mental development. The events a child experiences during the prenatal period and in the first months and years of life may have lifelong effects.
Research indicates that every three months a child spends in an institution delay his or her physical development by one month. Young children need one-on-one interaction with a sensitive parental figure attending to their needs, a figure they grow attached to and feel safe with.
In December 2012, UNICEF organised a regional conference on the topic of banning the institutionalisation of children under three years of age, with many participating countries from the region which undertook to implement appropriate measures.
Last year, on the Universal Children’s Day, UNICEF and the Chamber of Deputies held a debate where Gabriela Coman, then president of the Federation of Nongovernmental Organizations for Children (FONPC) and the current president of National Authority for Child Protection and Adoption (ANPDCA), suggested that institutionalisation of children under three years of age should be banned (Romania banned the institutionalisation of children under two ten years ago, in 2004). Deputy Gabriela Podașcă picked up the idea and drafted a legislative proposal, supported by over 60 Members of Parliament from all political parties, which was endorsed by the Senate and by the Labour Committee of the Chamber of Deputies. The proposal will be put to the vote this autumn when the parliamentary session resumes.
The revision of the law sends out a strong message: children are a priority and Romania remains a leading country in the region as regards the implementation of key reforms for vulnerable children.
Following UNICEF’s Regional Conference, if the law is passed this autumn, Romania will be the first country to meet this commitment (at regional level, only Croatia and Serbia have banned it). The revision of the law is in line with the latest EU and international recommendations.
“UNICEF will support the National Authority for the Protection of Child Rights in implementing this law at national and local levels, starting from January 2015, so that no child is found in traditional institutional care by 2020”, said Sandie Blanchet, UNICEF Representative in Romania.
This law will make another example of good practice for the protection of vulnerable children that Romania will share with other countries in Europe and not only.
Furthermore, UNICEF calls for greater investment in social services at local level to prevent the unnecessary separation of children from their families. Local and international experiences provide evidence that having a social worker in each community, often along with a nurse and a school mediator, can help protect children’s rights.