Children deprived of family environment

Living in an institution can have significant negative, life-long consequences for children’s physical, psychological and emotional development

A child laying on the floor is looking at a doll that he holds in his right hand
UNICEF/2017/Georgiev

The challenge

Science has proven that children develop best within a family environment, where they will get all the love and support they need to survive and thrive. If the biological family is not able to take care of a child, often because poverty, disability, adversity or misperception, it is in the best interest of the child to be placed within a family type environment – through foster care, kinship care or, when there is no chance of returning to their biological family, adoption.

But children should never be separated from their family and community and placed in a large institution, where even with the best intentions, skills and knowledge, the staff cannot give more than a fraction of the attention needed to help the child build attachment, to communicate and find comfort.

Yet, this happens all too often, even though it is well known that living in an institution can have significant negative, life-long consequences for their physical, psychological and emotional development.

Without the love and support they need, children can face life-long developmental problems

More than 100 children and youth in the country, many of which under three years old, still face those risks. For children living and growing up in institutions, this often means that they will have difficulties learning and developing social skills. These children are also much more likely to exhibit risky behaviour, or suffer from depression or severe anxiety when older.

Children up to three years of age are particularly vulnerable. If they spend this critical age for brain development in an institution, children can have difficulty forming attachments later in life. The toxic stress of a life of such emotional neglect also damages the cardiovascular, endocrinological, epigenetic and immunological development of the child.  

Institutional care is harmful and violates human rights

For children, the family is the primary source of learning before school, when up to 85% of human cognitive, social and emotional capacity is formed. The family is also a source of security of identity, of belonging, and ultimately of love.

UNICEF fully supports the country in efforts to bring an end to placement of children under three years if age in large scale institutions, , as part of a Europe-wide commitment and to accelerate  the de-institutionalisation for children from 3-18. De-institutionalisation is not about closing institutions but transforming them so the dedicated staff can contribute to family-based care alternatives for care within families and communities.

The solution

To make sure that every child lives in a family-type, loving and supportive environment, UNICEF supports child care reforms to ensure the full transition from institutional to community-based care for children and their families.

We currently work on supporting the development of a range of Foster Care Services (emergency, short-term, long-term, kinship, respite care), as a  form of family-based care for many children for whom living in their families or family reintegration is not  an option at the moment.

Together with the health system and social work services, we work to prevent abandonment, and separation of children from their families. This includes, strengthening of Kinship Care (care by extended family members) as one of the priority action to ensure family care for children who cannot live with their biological families. At the same time, we are committed to ensure greater reintegration and adoption of young children, as per international norms and standards.

We also support the revision of primary child protection, child care, family protection, social services and social assistance legislation and development of regulations and minimum quality standards for all services and processes which form an effective social services system.

Last but not least, we are working on increasing public awareness and understanding of how community-level services can deliver better outcomes for children, as well as on the general importance of living in a family environment for the development and the general well-being of children.

We are working to ensure a #FamilyForEveryChild!