Nearly half a million children in Europe and Central Asia live in residential care facilities

Long road ahead before ending Europe and Central Asia’s long, painful legacy’ of institutionalisation of children, as new UNICEF report highlights rate of children living in residential care across region is double the global average

19 January 2024
Տղան ջերմությամբ գրկել է մոր այտերը
UNICEF Armenia/2019/Margaryan

GENEVA, 18 January 2024 – Nearly half a million children – or 456,000 – across Europe and Central Asia live in residential care facilities, including large-scale institutions, according to a new report published today by UNICEF.

Pathways to Better Protection: taking stock of the situation of children in alternative care in Europe and Central Asia notes that the rate of children living in residential care facilities across Europe and Central Asia is double the global average, with 232 per 100,000 children living in residential care facilities compared to 105 per 100,000 globally.

“We have a long way to go before ending Europe and Central Asia’s long and painful legacy of institutionalising children. While there have been some improvements, progress has been far from equal. Children with disabilities have largely been left behind,” said Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia.

Western Europe has the highest rate of children in residential care facilities at 294 per 100,000 children – nearly triple the global average. While facilities in Western Europe tend to be small and integrated into communities, there remains an overreliance on residential care instead of family-based care. The higher rate is partly due to an increase in unaccompanied and separated children and young people seeking asylum in Europe in recent years.

The report also highlights some positive trends. For example, since 2010 many countries have seen a decrease in the proportion of children living in residential care facilities. In Bulgaria, Moldova and Georgia, data suggest that family-based care has become the dominant type of formal alternative care arrangement as governments pursued deinstitutionalisation policies and made significant investments in family-based care. In Türkiye and Romania, investments in prevention, family support and promotion of foster care helped reduce the number of children in certain types of residential care facilities, such as children’s homes.

Still, there has been little progress for children with disabilities who are far more likely to be placed in residential care facilities than children without disabilities. In countries where data is available, children with disabilities account for between 4 per cent and up to 86 per cent of children in residential care facilities. In more than half of countries with available data, the proportion of children with disabilities in all types of formal residential care has increased between 2015 and 2021.

The negative impacts of family separation and institutionalisation on children’s health, development and well-being are well-documented. Children living in large-scale institutions often face emotional neglect and higher rates of abuse and exploitation, exposing them to mental health problems, psychological distress, and trauma. 

Children in institutions can struggle to form positive relationships throughout childhood and adulthood, leaving them feeling isolated and lonely. Children who are in residential care – especially from a young age – can experience cognitive, linguistic, and other developmental delays, and are more likely to be in conflict with the law, perpetuating cycles of institutionalisation. 

In alignment with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the UN Guidelines on Alternative Care, UNICEF calls for systematic closure of large-scale institutions used to house and educate children. This includes replacing residential facilities housing children with disabilities or unaccompanied and separated children, with high quality family- and community-based care.

UNICEF calls for adequate investments to support early identification and early intervention for children at risk, a strong social service workforce, family support services to prevent unnecessary family separation, and quality foster care for children in need of protection. Reallocating resources from institutional care towards family and community-based care and ensuring investments in quality data is critical.

UNICEF works with governments and partners across the region to help keep families together and support family- and community-based care. This includes developing and implementing deinstitutionalisation policies and programmes, scaling up protection and family support services to prevent children being separated from their families, promoting family- and community-based care and family reunification and reintegration and safe transition to independent life. UNICEF also works with governments and national statistical offices to improve the availability, comparability and quality of data on children in alternative care.

Situation in Armenia

From 2020 to 2023, the government of Armenia has increased funding for foster care twofold, while funding for outsourcing protection services to local civil society organisations has increased fivefold in an attempt to ensure national coverage. In parallel, ongoing enhancements have been made in case management and the availability of alternatives to residential care, alongside the improved accessibility and coverage of community-based child and family support services. As a result, there has also been an increase in the number of children reunified with their biological families.

Despite the stated progress, there are still about 937 children in Armenia residing in state-run orphanages (under the MoLSA) and special schools (under the MoESCS). Vast majority of children in residential care and educational facilities are children with disabilities. In addition to poverty and the inability of families to meet the basic needs of their children, as well as other vulnerabilities of families, one of the main reasons for institutionalization of care of children with disabilities is the lack of specialized community-based child and family support services or limited access to those services.

 

Media contacts

Zara Sargsyan
Communication Specialist
UNICEF Armenia
Tel: 37455232169
Tel: 37410580174

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