The world average ratio of children in residential care per 100,000 child population is 120, in Eastern Europe and Central Asia Region it is 666 and in Armenia it is above 400, with around 3,000 children living in state-run residential care institutions, while the number of children in privately run institutions is not clear.
UNICEF supports the Government of Armenia to better fulfill the right of every child to live in a family.
Decades of independent research in different countries have undeniably demonstrated negative effect of residential care on children, harming their development and opportunities in life.
The youngest children are harmed the most, due to their rapid brain development and emotional attachment issues – for that reason UNICEF has called for a complete ban on residential care for children 0-3 years old.
Apart from the negative consequences on children, residential care puts a heavy financial burden on public state budgets. In Armenia the annual cost of supporting this system is $16.6 million. The average cost of keeping a child in residential care is $3,800 annually. The maximum amount of support for a child in foster care is $2,800 per year. As for the family benefit per child, it amounts to around $500 annually. Supporting family-based solutions is clearly more beneficial for children and for public finances.
In Armenia, most of children end up in orphanages and other residential institutions not due to absence of biological parents, but due to their disability or poverty, and other vulnerabilities that make it difficult for their families to care for them.
Around 90 percent of children in residential care institutions in Armenia have at least one living parent. As of April 2018, out of 620 children residing in the state-run orphanages, 448 have disabilities. Long-term institutional care should not be considered as appropriate for any child, with or without disabilities.
Despite the significant efforts in improving protection of children and promoting a child’s right to live in a family, the Government of Armenia, UNICEF and other partners still face many challenges:
The system of protecting children without adequate parental care, living in poverty or with disability is not consolidated, coherent and flexible enough to accommodate the evolving needs of children. Priority should always be given to family-based solutions.
Prevention of separation is not adequately supported through effective assistance to families. Better material support to families should be accompanied with professional social work, health and education services, access to rehabilitation and parenting support.
There is no common agenda and the coordination between different state and non-state actors is not sufficient to ensure good results for children.
Since 2015 there was an intensified effort of the Ministry and Labour and Social Affairs and a number of other actors, including UNICEF, to reform the old system relying mainly on residential care institutions. Progress was slow in some aspects, however major results were achieved over the past 3 years, in terms of legislation changes, capacity development and creating alternatives to residential care. This process was suddenly interrupted by the withdrawal of the main donor (USAID) in the last quarter of 2017. There are other donors and commitments, as well as the ongoing responsibility of the State for providing the best care for children. The reform has almost reached its tipping point and it is now of critical importance not to allow it to slide back. Although the project funded by USAID was complex, it still did not tackle all the aspects of the child protection system, and for that reason it is also important to take a step back, analyze the current situation and make a plan for a comprehensive system change.
Take urgent action to continue the reform processes that were interrupted due to USAID withdrawal and change of Government.
Take a broader look at the child protection system. An assessment of the child protection system should map all actors.
Develop a long-term strategy and action plans in a consultative manner, with clear targets and responsibilities.
Build public support and broad alliance for better protection of children.
- An enabling legal and regulatory framework was established to support the child-care reform (adoption of the amendments to the Family Code, around 30 Government decrees, reflection of key priorities in strategic documents – including the National Strategy for Protection of Child Rights for 2017-2021; Human Rights Action Plan for 2017-2019; Government Programme for 2017-2022, etc.);
- Alternative community-based family support services were made accessible to vulnerable children and their families (capacity building of the social workforce e.g. social workers and case managers, financial and human resources reallocated from residential to community based care);
- The family substitution service system is strengthened (diversification of types of foster care, 4-fold increase in funding for foster care, more than 50 new foster families selected and trained;
- In order to return children from special schools back to their families and communities, the inclusive education system was strengthened to provide quality learning for all children through set-up of pedagogical-psychological support centres and mainstream school trainings;
- Public support to placing children in residential care has been reduced, although not sufficiently.
The ultimate goal of the reform is to provide every child with a good, nurturing and loving family or family-like environment which will enable the development of his/her full potentials.