During recent years Poland has reformed its institutional care system. EU Structural Funds have been used to provide family and community-based care and the idea of deinstitutionalisation has become a popular term in Poland. However, the aim of DI in Poland is understood as reducing the numbers of children living in institutions rather than providing quality care for children. In 2015, there were 50,308 children living in institutional care in Poland among which 25,170 were children with disabilities living in 467 institutions under the power of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health, 5,621 children with behavioural problems in 93 institutions under the Ministry of Education and 1,530 in 32 “correctional centres” under the Ministry of Justice. Apart from the Act on Family Support and the System of Foster Care there is no national action plan or strategy for deinstitutionalisation in Poland. The Child and Family Foundation is strongly lobbying for one.
According to the Act on Family Support and the System of Foster Care, family strengthening is a priority in Poland. New services have been introduced such as family assistants, supportive families1, day care services, social workers etc. However, the services are underdeveloped and poorly financed. Furthermore, the methodology of social work is based on the “diagnostic” approach rather than on a family strengthening approach or a solution-focused approach. The family assistants’ role also ends once the child is removed from his/her family, a practice which reduces the probability of the child’s reintegration to his/her family.
In the last 5 years the number of Small group homes2 (SGHs) has tripled in Poland, as a result of the introduction of the new Act on Family Support and the System of Foster Care, which was responsible for ensuring the establishment of units for no more than 14 children. Many large institutions were divided into smaller semiautonomous units. However, this division did not change the reality of children’s everyday life. In many places 2 to 5 new SGHs were built close to one another, which created new care complexes resembling the previous large institutions although located in more modern and smaller buildings.
The Act on Family Support and the System of Foster Care also secured the establishment of 6 new regional institutions for 45 children with serious behavioural problems. The construction of these facilities was financed by the state budget. The caregivers employed in SGHs are required to have a Master’s degree in pedagogy or social sciences, however they are usually not specifically trained to work in SGHs. Such training is provided by NGOs, specialised in the field to only some of these facilities.
With regard to family-based care there were 56,986 children in foster care and 31,951 children in kinship care in 2015. During recent years the number of foster care families has decreased due to many scandals published in the media, lack of support, bureaucratic requirements and the monitoring performed by foster care coordinators which is often viewed as obtrusive by foster carers. In addition children’s needs are more complex, there is very little specialised support, very few in-service trainings, and almost no psychological supervision provided to foster families.
FAST FACTS & latest developments
- 50,308 children are living in institutional care of whom 25,170 are children with disabilities and 19,517 live in different types of care institutions managed by the social support system.
- 1,300 children aged 0-3 years are living in institutional care although it is illegal.
- 88,937 children were living in family-based care in 2015.
- This year the European Social Funds Operational Programs in the Mazovian region, which includes the city of Warsaw and the Silesian region are aimed at promoting the deinstitutionalisation of the system. However these funds may also be used to support the establishment of new Small group homes accommodating 14 children per home.
- The Child and Family Foundation set up a working group of leading specialists in the field which prepared legislative changes aimed to implement DI. The group prepared recommendations and the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy’s attitude towards deinstitutionalisation has been positive, however, budgetary restraints are often cited as an obstacle to implementing such changes.
1 Neighbours or relatives supporting the family at risk
2 In Poland there is no separate statistical data related to Small group homes. Their numbers are included within the number of other child care institutions