The majority of children deprived of parental care in Belgium are placed in institutional care. Children with disabilities are among those who are the most discriminated against. There is no deinstitutionalisation (DI) strategy for children living in institutions1. Deinstitutionalisation in Belgium is considered as an austerity measure, and stable employment of professionals working within institutions is a priority for the state. Due to the influx of unaccompanied migrant and refugee children, more institutions have been now opened or extended.
In Belgium, there is no strategy for DI. Belgium is organised into three communities: the French, the Flemish and the German community. As a result, there is no centralised data on institutional care; it is mostly either unavailable or difficult to obtain. In 2013, there were 5,5832 children in institutional care in the French community and approximately 2,031 of these children had a disability. 372 children were between the age of 0-3, however, this figure does not include 275 babies and children placed in hospitals3.
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. There are also 8 boarding schools for children with disabilities in Flanders.
Children with disabilities are often enrolled in the boarding schools during the week and are then transferred to the other institutions at the weekend. According to the data available, there are 4 institutions in Flanders sheltering these children during the weekends4.
Although community-based care does exist in Belgium, the number of 1children in community-based settings is unknown. There are 43 Small Group Homes in Wallonia and 8 in Flanders, however, there is no information about the quality of care provided in these settings.
There were 9,697 children in both foster and kinship care in 2014 in Belgium5: 3,639 children in Wallonia, 6,058 children in Flanders and 59 children in the German speaking community. In Wallonia Brussels, however, the foster care figures haven’t evolved in the last 3 years. More than 332 children in foster care in Flanders are in need of further support. 7,000 children are on the waiting list for services and support to meet their needs and the level of disability.
Not only institutions are not closing in Belgium, but more are opening due to the influx of unaccompanied migrant and refugee children. In a span of a few months in 2016, three new institutions have been opened or have been extended to accommodate unaccompanied migrant and refugee children. There is also a lack of foster care options in Wallonia Brussels for these children6.
The fact that deinstitutionalisation is still associated with the low cost alternatives presents the biggest challenge for DI reforms in Belgium. Given the large number of people working in residential care in Belgium, this sector is viewed as a priority for the state due to steady employment. DI is often considered as an austerity measure. Another obstacle preventing implementation of the DI reforms is perception that institutional care supports family reunification whereas foster care does not. The argument being that the stable relationships formed between foster parents and a child may become an obstacle to child’s reintegration into the family.
FAST FACTS & LATEST DEVELOPMENTS
- Between 2013 and 2014 approximately 13,500 children were in institutional care in Belgium.
- In 2015 out of the 7,917 children living in institutional care in Flanders, 7,286 children were children with disabilities.
- In 2015 275 children under the age of 6 were in hospitals due to a lack of available places in alternative care settings (in FWB)
- In 2014 9,697 children were in family-based care in Belgium.
- In 2015 there were 1,965 unaccompanied and refugee children in Belgium.
- Due to the recent influx of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children in Belgium, three new institutional structures have opened or have been extended to accommodate these children.
1 There is only a mental health reform called project 107
2 Figure does not include unaccompanied refugee and migrant children
5 The percentage of kinship care families and foster care families is 60%-40% in Flanders and 75%-25% in Wallonia