The Ukraine integration towards the EU presents tremendous opportunities for implementing a nation-wide child protection reform. But, despite high-level political statements supporting the implementation of European and international best practices, including a move towards deinstitutionalisation (DI), Ukraine still sticks to the post-soviet system of institutional care. At the beginning of 2014 there were 615 institutions hosting more than 70 000 children. While there have been a number of closures of institutions and while Ukraine has seen an increase in the number of alternative care services, such as foster care and adoption, the process is still not comprehensive and sustainable.
More should be done on the side of prevention to establish community-based services and to train professional social workers, but resources are scarce. According to NGOs, the government spends millions on institutions – resources that could instead be used for the establishment of quality community-based services to prevent family separation and the flow of children to institutions. The current system cannot keep up with the arrival of new children, while young people leaving institutions are left alone with lack of support. Local authorities are not given the funds nor the encouragement to provide services to children and families, leaving institutionalisation as the easiest option.
The complicated situation of institutionalised children grows even deeper with the large number of internally displaced people in Ukraine. Around 1.25 million people have been forced to flee conflict zones in the East, and displaced families are extremely vulnerable with no relevant social support provided. This situation leads to an increase in the number of children in institutions. In addition, children from institutions that have been forced to move, have lost contacts with their families, severely damaging the perspective for reunification.
Despite all remaining difficulties with deinstitutionalisation, Ukraine has a window of opportunity with the implementation of the child protection reform. Examples of deinstitutionalisation projects and of implementation of family-oriented services on a local level exist, and could be disseminated nationwide. An established network of CSOs has developed capacities in public awareness raising, forming coalitions with a wide range of stakeholders to advocate for DI reform provisions both on the national and the regional level. The remaining challenges to enable child protection reform are developing a clear deinstitutionalisation strategy, building capacity for strategy implementation, and clearing funds for investment in reform.