While the Government of Romania has made significant progress in the past 28 years in reducing the number of children in state care, the country still has one of the largest alternative care systems in the region. It tends to the needs of over 56,000 children. Of these, approximately 18,000 are in foster care, 13,900 with relatives, 4,800 with other families, and 18,500 in state-run institutions. Only around 3,000 of these children are adoptable.
When children grow up outside a family environment, their chances to develop to their full potential drop. Research has shown that every three months a child under three spends within an institution delays their physical development by one month.
There is also a risk of delays in cognitive and language development.
Social stigma adds to all this, as children from institutions are often regarded as different and marginalized.
It’s worth mentioning that most of the children in state care are so-called "social orphans", as their mother is alive and known for over 90% of children and 48% of children also have fathers. Without helping vulnerable families that struggle to keep their children with them and avoid child separation, some 5,000 children still enter the childcare system every year. Among the various reasons are poverty (~ 41% of cases), abuse, neglect, exploitation and different forms of violence (~ 28% of cases) and child disability (~ 9.5%).
Many times, separation happens because parents can no longer afford to buy food, or have no proper housing over the winter and children would be, they think, better off in a centre where it’s warm and they can get a meal. Sometimes children come from split or single-parent families where making ends meet is a struggle. Most times, it’s not just the separation from family that adversely impacts these children. Their families most likely do not know that they are eligible for social aid or have no idea how to apply. Then there’s violence, early pregnancies, and illnesses due to there being limited to no access to at least a social worker or a nurse, if not a doctor.
In most cases, families provide the most protective and adequate environment for children.
A decision to separate a child from his or her family is an extreme measure that should only be taken if absolutely necessary and in the best interest of the child. It needs to be accompanied by a detailed plan for each child, ideally leading to alternative community based family-type care or foster care.