No children under 3 in institutions
Montenegro was the first country in the region not to have any children under 3 years of age in institutions, but this is not the case anymore.
PODGORICA, 17 July 2023 – Instead of being referred to residential institutions, such as the Children’s Home in Bijela, children without parental care aged 0–3 years, with the support of the social and child protection system, should either remain in their families or be referred to foster families. Montenegro was the first country in the region not to have any children under 3 years of age in institutions, but this is not the case anymore.
More than 50 years of research show that children placed in institutions in early childhood are at risk from developmental delays – this can only be recovered by the care of a loving family environment. For this reason, UNICEF calls for guarantees that no child under 3 is placed in an institution in Montenegro.
As a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Montenegro has committed itself to guaranteeing for every girl and boy the right to grow up in a safe family environment.
Having no children under 3 years of age in institutions is also one of the criteria for Montenegro’s EU accession process. The need to accelerate the social welfare and child protection system reform to provide quality, family care to every child was emphasized in the last EU Progress Report.
We call upon the relevant institutions in Montenegro to ensure that every child realizes its right to grow up in a safe family environment. Montenegro needs to prioritize further development of foster care and adoption of children. Placing every child who is without proper parental care and under 3 years old in a family should be an urgent national priority.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare is developing its first-ever Strategy on Deinstitutionalization to replace institutionalization with family care for every child.
This Strategy needs to focus on strengthening mechanisms to prevent the separation of children from their families, as well as on strengthening the foster care system in Montenegro. It is necessary to further promote and develop non-kinship foster care. Also, specialized foster care for children with disabilities, immediate foster care for children under 3, and emergency foster care for child victims of violence need to be urgently developed.
Preventing separation of children from their biological families by providing early, quality support to these families when they are in a crisis is essential.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare needs to urgently invest in development and sustainability of support programmes for families at risk of family–child separation that will prevent placement of children in institutional care.
During the last decades, UNICEF and EU have been supporting the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare to advance reforms of the country’s social welfare and childcare system. As a result, the new Law on Social and Child Protection prohibited placing children under 3 in institutions unless it is a temporary measure of last resort.