Romania: ending the institutionalisation of children
Nine out of ten children living in state care in Romania have at least one parent alive, but poverty, social stigma and lack of support keep them separated from their families. Unfortunately, being in this institutional care seriously harms children’s life chances: 66% of children in institutions don’t go to mainstream schools, and 88% never go to university.
Since 2002 we’ve been working with Hope and Homes for Children (HHC) to help the Romanian government reform their child care system. We aim to close all of its state care institutions by 2020, and rehousing children with their own families or with families who can look after them properly.
What we had to do
The alternative to institutions is a model which champions prevention: a model supporting families to stay together, and encouraging strong family- and community-based care. For those children already living in institutions, we use three strategies:
- Reuniting children with their families. We try to do this wherever possible, and make sure caregivers have the support they need to create safe, secure homes.
- Finding foster or adoption families. If a child’s birth family can’t provide the right care, we work to place children with a foster or adoption family.
- Finding small-group homes. When all other avenues have been exhausted, we place children in small-group homes where carers act as foster parents. This alternative model of care is far better for children and society, and is more cost-efficient in the long term.
HHC has worked directly with children and carers to prevent institutionalisation and to promote family-style care. Ark has also focused on influencing national and international policy so that family based care is prioritised in Romania in the years ahead.
Keeping children out of institutions, building family-based care
In 2012, in partnership with county child protection teams, we helped 2,035 children stay with their families and avoid going into state care. We did this by giving practical and psychological assistance to families, often at a time of temporary crisis. HHC is now working with prevention services in seven counties out of 47, three more than planned nationally for this year.
We removed 184 children from harmful, large-scale institutions and closed the last remaining institution in Maramures county. Maramures is the first county in Romania to have documented how it closed all institutions, providing a blueprint for other counties to follow.
We also taught 424 staff how to communicate better with children, manage challenging behaviour, stop abuse, and prepare children for life outside an institution. The quality of care given to children - measured across a wide range of practical and professional skills - improved by 20% on average after our training. These newly-trained carers will be at the forefront of reform as it spreads nationally.
National support for change
In April 2012 we produced Romania's first comprehensive national audit of child care services – this covered all remaining institutions, children, support services, and any gaps between them. We found that lack of funds for alternative care meant 37 out of 45 child protection services surveyed had no plans to shut remaining institutions. The audit is providing the hard facts and evidence needed by the Romanian government to draw up a detailed national closure plan by 2015.
Leveraging funds for reform
We’re working to make sure that existing European Union funding can be directed towards Romania's child care reform. In early June, we hosted a series of high-level events on deinstitutionalisation at the European Parliament in Brussels - nearly two-thirds of attendees ‘agreed completely’ with our call for the EU to work with member states to close institutions. The European Parliament has since ratified the use by member states of EU cohesion policy funding to finance the transition to family style child care.
HHC has been chosen as one of only a handful of non-governmental organisations to sit on the national forum advising how Romania should use EU money. We will be well-placed to influence the Government's decisions about child care reform once the 2014-2020 EU budget is agreed.
Ark will continue to support family-style care. We will close two further institutions and train 100 more county child care staff. In each county, we will train a child care inspector to assess the quality of care against family-based standards.
Andrei was put into care when his parents divorced and his mother had nowhere to live with her four children. He was first placed in a small-group home funded by a religious group. In May 2012 he was abandoned with his personal belongings – but without explanation – in front of the local child protection department offices.
Andrei was then sent to live in an old-style institution, even though his mother very much wanted all her children with her and Andrei was always asking when he could come home. Lack of suitable housing and money were the only barriers to reuniting Andrei’s mother with her children.
HHC developed a care plan in collaboration with the local child protection department. We helped Andrei’s mother find a home and we supported them for six months as they found their feet. Together with the local child protection team we will continue to monitor the family’s progress. Now that Andrei and his siblings are back together with their mother, he is flourishing in the care of his reunited family.
His mother has found a job and is managing to provide for her children. After graduating from school, Andrei plans to go to vocational college to train for a job in construction and become financially independent as soon as possible.