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Care reform in Croatia: bridge funding with expertise, say campaigners

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To continue progress with deinstitutionalisation, Croatia must bridge further EU investments and broader engagement with civil society, say representatives of the Opening Doors, a pan-European campaign that aims to strengthen families and end institutional care for children.

On 11 June 2018, National Coordinator of the Opening Doors campaign in Croatia Ljiljana Ban and Campaign Coordinator Katerina Nanou participated in the roundtable discussions “Deinstitutionalization of Social Care in Croatia”. The event was organised by the European Commission and the World Bank, in cooperation with the Ministry of Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy. It brought together national decision-makers, practitioners and advocacy organisations at the national level as well as professionals from Slovenia and Romania to take stock of progress with deinstitutionalisation reforms and discuss the next steps.

As a member of the European Union, Croatia has been identified by the European Commission as one of the 12 countries with a need for deinstitutionalisation reforms. Although the Government has recognised the importance of deinstitutionalisation and started transformation of the care system in 2006, the transition from institutional to family- and community- based care shows slow signs of progress. Main challenges include inconsistent political will to transform the care system fully and transparently, lack of know-how at administrative and professional levels, combined with prejudices against foster care and the inefficient use of EU funding to support DI reforms.

Speaking at the roundtable event, Marija Pletikosa, State Secretary from the Ministry for Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy and Zvjezdana Bogdanović, Minister Advisor updated on the current state of play with reforms of deinstitutionalsation for children and adults in Croatia. Specifically, they provided evidence on the implementation of the Operational Plan that includes transformation of 32 homes – 18 for children and adults with disabilities and 14 for children without adequate parental care and children with behavioural problems (7 for the first group and 7 for the second category of children). Ms Pletikosa and Ms Bogdanović mentioned that between 2014 and 2016, the Government of Croatia planned deinstitutionalisation of 1,043 people, including 653 children and adults with disabilities and 390 children without adequate parental care and children and young people with behavioural problems. From 2013 until today, 689 persons with disability and 1,491 children have been transferred into family and community-based care (66% of the planned targets). Out of 32 institutions, 29 are in the process of transformation– 15 homes for persons with disability and all 14 homes for children and youth.

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Download presentation (in Croatian) — 338kb, PDF

Croatia has received approximately 95 million Euro from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) in order to proceed with transformation of its infrastructure. Reforms for children and youth will be funded with approximately 15-17.6 million Euro (16%-19% of overall allocations). Additionally, 14-16.5 million Euro from the European Social Fund (ESF) will become available for children’s deinstitutionalisation (out of total 47 million Euro ESF investments).

In May 2017, five calls for proposals financed by the European Social Fund were launched to support deinstitutionalisation and strengthening of families in Croatia, in line with the Master Plan 2011-2018. This includes support to the DI process and transformation of 18 state institutions into homes for adults and children with disabilities; prevention of institutionalisation of children and youth for 14 state institutions; social inclusion and employment of marginalised groups of people, and expansion of the social services network in the community. Four out of five calls for proposals have already started being implemented. Call relating to the expansion of the social services has been extended twice and will be closed in June 2018.

With regard to ERDF, NGOs that participated in the meeting, mentioned that they do not receive any support from the government regarding their application for funding under the ESF or ERDF calls for proposal. They mentioned that there is an issue of a survival and that even though they want to support the government with the DI reforms, they cannot due to administative burden.

One of the main suggestion of representatives of NGOs was to make evaluation of so far process and based on that make new plan. As one of the main problems indicated was fragmentation and inconsistency of the state management regarding DI process (together with fragmentation of services)

During the meeting, the State Secretary announced the adoption of a new foster care legislation that will be adopted before the end of the year and will make foster care professionalized (foster parents will receive salary). The new act on social welfare will be adopted in 2019 and the new Family Act that will support the adoption of the child will be adopted in July.

Most importantly the follow up from the Master Plan on DI that was completed in 2016 and was extended until 2018, will be published in July 2018. The new Action Plan will include continuity of the DI like inclusion of homes that were not included in the first Oprational plan, development of social serivces in community according to current needs, ending of new incomers in to institutions.

The Opening Doors for Europe’s Children welcomes renewed commitment of the Government towards child care and child protection reforms in Croatia. Specifically, it is important to see that all existing 14 institutions for children and young people are now in the process of transformation. Up to the end of 2017, it remained of worry for the campaign that children under the age of three were still getting institutionalised instead of being directly placed in family-based care solutions.

We are calling the Government of Croatia to:

For the next steps of the deinstitutionalisation process, the engagement of civil society and the use of EU funding:

  • Engate the civil society in the development of the upcoming Action Plan – which will be the follow up from the Master Plan 2014-2018
    • Ensure that the updated Action Plan is in line with the UNCRC, the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, the UNCRPD and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights
  • Engage meaningfully the civil society in the Monitoring Committees of the Operational Program related to deinstitutionalization reforms, according to the European Code of Conduct on Partnership. Civil society should be involved during implemmentation, morning and evaluation of EU funded programmes.
  • Provide ongoing technical assistance to the NGOs that are willing to submit proposals for projects related to deinstitutionalisation.
  • Ensure that EU funds are ring fenced by national budget in order to secure sustainability of the projects after the end of the EU funding period.

For children’s deinstitutionalisation process:

  • Ensure that the transition from institutional to family and community based care, takes into account the best interests of the child and that for each child individualized support is provided. Quality in the alternative care system is key.
  • Ensure that support for children does not end when they turn 18 or finish schoolingbut continues as long as it is needed according to their individualized plan.
  • Ensure that children always participate in decisions affecting their lives.

 

 

 

Opening Doors contributes to the new legislation on family-based care in Greece

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On 26 April 2018, representatives of the Opening Doors Campaign were invited to the Hellenic Parliament to participate in the consultation with representatives of children’s rights organisations regarding the draft law on adoption and foster care. Following the hearing of the Permanent Parliamentary Committee on Social Affairs, the Hellenic Parliament passed the draft of the new legislation on 2 May 2018. “This is a progressive law which will enable the development of family-based forms of care for children in Greece which, in turn, will catalyse deinstitutionalisation reforms at national level,” say Katerina Nanou, Policy and Advocacy Officer at Eurochild and Coordinator of the Opening Doors for Europe’s Children Campaign and Mary Theodoropolou, Director of the Roots Research Center who coordinates the Opening Doors Campaign in Greece at national level. 
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Family-based care is now prevailing over institutions for children in Latvia

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The number of children without parental care who grow up in foster families for the first time exceeded the number of children living in institutions in Latvia, according to the data released by the State Inspectorate for the Protection of the Children’s Rights (VBTAI). At the same time, the share of children under the age of three who grow up in the state-run institutions dropped below 10 percent.

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Belgium: segregation policies in Flemish schools breach the rights of children with disabilities, European Committee of Social Rights says

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According to a recent decision from the European Committee of Social Rights, the Flemish community of Belgium denies access to mainstream education to disabled children and fails to provide the necessary assistance to ensure such inclusion. The complaint was initiated by international human rights organisation Validity Foundation (formerly the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre) in collaboration with Flemish organisation “Equal rights for every person with a disability” (GRIP – Gelijke Rechten voor Iedere Persoon met een handicap), national partner of the Opening Doors for Europe’s Children campaign in Belgium.

Evidence from the Opening Doors National Coordinator in Belgium also shows that children with disabilities in Belgium are among those who are the most discriminated against. In 2015, there were 7,917 children in institutional care in Flanders of whom 7,286 were those with disabilities and 466 children were below the age of 5.

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Europe’s civil society calls on the EU to reinforce and expand its pivotal role towards children’s deinstitutionalisation

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On 20 March 2018, civil society representing over 300 organisations from 25 European countries who work with and for children wmet key EU level stakeholders in Brussels to discuss how the EU can ensure better outcomes for children and their families through the post-2020 EU budget. The event, titled “Maintain, Strengthen, Expand How the EU can support the transition from institutional to family and community-based care in the next MFF”, explored how the EU can retain, reinforce and expand its pivotal role towards children’s deinstitutionalisation and the transformation of child protection systems in Europe.
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