ENIL Freedom Drive 2017 – Registration deadline extended

enil_freedomdrive2017The European Network on Independent Living (ENIL), the Opening Doors national partner in Belgium, is organising ENIL 2017 Freedom Drive that will take place between 24th and 28th September in Brussels. The ENIL Freedom Drive is one of the key campaigns held every two years since 2003. It provides supporters of the Independent Living Movement with the unique opportunity to meet Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and promote human rights issues, as well as to share experiences and ideas with colleagues from around Europe.
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For the first time a UN resolution focuses on the importance of investing in children. The Human Rights Council calls for support for children to be cared for by their own families and communities and for the protection of children growing up without parents or caregivers, recognizing the high economic and social returns of such investments. This reflects the contribution of the Opening Doors for Europe’s Children Campaign, in partnership with SOS Children’s Villages, to the Office of the High Commissioner’s preparatory report. It is now up to national policy makers to implement the resolution and invest in deinstitutionalisation reforms. 

During its 28th Session, the UN Human Rights council adopted the resolution “Towards better investment in the rights of the child”, presented by Latvia, as representative of the European Union.  Adopted by consensus and co-sponsored by 78 countries, including Bulgaria, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, and Poland, it provides a new string to the bow of Opening Doors’ advocacy. While UN resolutions are not legally binding, the consensus entails a commitment by states to implement the proposed actions in their national policy frameworks.

The document was supported by a report from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights providing information on the main challenges related to the mobilisation, allocation and spending of resources for children. Eurochild and Hope and Homes for Children together with Opening Doors Campaign partners, contributed to that report last October in a joint submission with SOS Children’s Villages International, titled “Towards a stronger economic evidence base to support child protection reform: from institutions to family based care and community level services.

Our joint submission brought the attention to how institutional care systems cumulate violations of children’s rights, and to the necessity to invest in a system that supports families and communities to take care of their children, and enable those children to contribute more to society. Our paper also collected some existing evidence towards the long term wider social returns of investing in preventive services for children and their families.

Opening Doors campaign leaders are delighted to see those arguments for investing in children reflected in the Human Rights Council’s reasoning which recognizes that “investing in children (…) delivers benefits to the society and the economy at large (Pp10)” and that “investment in children has high economic and social returns”, stressing that all efforts should of course “serve as an instrument for the fulfilment of children’s rights.” (Para 4).

The document provides for a strong call for investment in social protection systems (para 31), in material assistance and support programmes for parents and guardians (para 32), and in early childhood programmes targeted at families facing difficulties (para 34). In addition, the text brings a clear focus on establishing holistic child protection systems, including through laws, policies, regulations and appropriate budget allocations (para 25). Paragraph 35 of the resolution particularly encourages states “to take into account the Guidelines for Alternative Care of Children and to adopt and enforce laws and improve the implementation of policies and programmes, budget allocation and human resources to support children, particularly children living in disadvantaged and marginalized families, to be cared for effectively by their own families and communities and protect children growing up without parents or caregivers”. 

Furthermore, it recognises some of the financial barriers to investment also highlighted in our submission such as “the need to make children a priority in budgetary allocations” even, and particularly in times of “limited available resources” (para 22b) and the need for horizontal and vertical cooperation to “ensure that decentralization or devolution does not lead to discrimination” caused by resources not following responsibilities – as is all too often the case in deinstitutionalisation processes.

After the EC Recommendation on Investing in Children and the UN Guidelines for Alternative Care, this new UN resolution provides an additional advocacy tool for comprehensive national reforms strengthening families and ending institutional care. Our next step will be to contribute to the follow-up report which the High Commissioner is invited to produce, with learnings from the Opening Doors campaign, and Eurochild’s research study on the Investment Case for strengthening families and ending institutional care, funded by the OAK foundation.

On International Day of Persons with Disability Opening Doors campaign calls for more inclusive societies

Today is the International Day of Persons with Disability. On this occasion, the Opening Doors Campaign calls for real inclusion of children with disabilities in Europe.

At the recent European Convention against Poverty (EPAP), Dominik Drdul, a young advocate for children with disabilities, addressed EU leaders Martin Schultz and Marianne Thyssen saying: “Albert Einstein once said: “If we judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid” […] many times it happened to me that someone has focused on my weaknesses, not my strengths.”

Every day Dominik and civil society organisations advocate for a real integration in society of people with a disability. To obtain that, we will have to see a real change in the way disabilities are perceived.

“No legitimate justification now exists for the maintenance of large-scale institutions for children with disabilities” says Jana Hainsworth, Secretary General of Eurochild, Opening Doors Campaign leader. “There is a huge body of good practice demonstrating the feasibility of reforming mainstream services to provide more inclusive environments as well as of delivering specialised and intensive treatment and support that can ensure a high-quality family life even for the more severely disabled children” she concludes.

Currently, children with disabilities are heavily overrepresented in institutional care: across Eastern Europe and Central Asia, they are almost 17 times more likely to be institutionalised than children who are not disabled (UNICEF, “Children under the age of three in formal care in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 2012, p.45). The most important reasons for that are prejudice, discrimination and the belief that the complex needs of disabled children cannot be met with appropriate care in their families. Children with disabilities are judged on what they cannot achieve, which has resulted in medical and psycho-social personnel in maternity wards encouraging mothers to leave their newborns with disabilities in state care. Despite the growing awareness of international norms such as the UNCRC and the UNCRPD, such practices are still commonplace (UNICEF, ibid., p. 78).

That is why next week, on 10th of December, the Opening Doors Campaign will bring the Tanev family to the European Parliament to testify about their experience of being persuaded in the hospital maternity ward to leave their child born with Down syndrome in an institution. Now reunited with their son, the Tanevs will address an audience of MEP’s, European Commission officials, representatives of Member States and European and national experts, to raise awareness that children with disabilities are still being separated from their families and segrated from society.

This view needs to change and our societies need to change to value and accommodate people with a diversity of needs. Opening Doors Campaign is co-organising the event at the European Parliament with the European Expert Group to support this transformation to support a transition from institutional to community-based care in line with the international human rights standards

The UN conventions on the Rights of the child and on the rights of persons with disabilities set clear international standards on supporting children with disabilities and their families within local communities.