On 9 March 2017, Parliamentary Committee for Justice adopted a law that establishes a juridical status of foster carers in Belgium. The new legislation clarifies rights and obligations of foster carers. It allows more decisions to be delegated to the foster parents in relation to the upbringing of a foster child.
Foster parents can now decide on all small daily interventions such as the hair cut, signing school papers or immunisation. Emergency medical decisions can be taken by the foster parents with information duty afterwards. Fundamental decisions related to health, leisure, religion or education remain under authority of the biological parents.
Finding a consensus on delegation of the mid- and long-term decisions is a preferred option for all parties and should always be worked on. When it is not possible, the foster family can ask for a delegation of competences by a judge after one year of foster care. However, practice shows that in many cases the consensus could not be found – not only because parents do not agree but also because they are not present (for school trips for instance).
Another right of foster parents will now include visitation rights when a child stayed for more than a year with the same foster carers. More detailed information about the law can be found here.
Maud Stiernet from La Porte Ouverte, Opening Doors Campaign Coordinator in Belgium commented, “The law had a very long history of proposals due to several factors including a very complicated Belgian political landscape which has disjointed governmental system and numerous competency levels. The need for a legislative framework regulating foster care provisions existed in Belgium for almost 20 years. After its adoption by the Parliament in March 2017, the new legislation was positively received by the child rights professionals, delegates and family associations in Flemish and German communities. In Wallonia–Brussels, situation is a little more complex, if not polarised, for many reasons including asymmetrical political fractions in governmental bodies (when the opposition at federal level is in power at the community/ regional level) and the existing idea of a dichotomy between biological and foster parents (i.e. that they come from different socio-economic backgrounds). But the truth is that more than 75% of foster carers in Wallonia–Brussels are kinship families (close and immediate relatives) and usually have the same socio-economic context as direct family of a child.”
She adds, “There has always been a necessity to clarify the roles of foster parents and to integrate international / EU council recommendations (R87) and the case law. However, neither biological nor foster parents have never been able to discuss this officially through any official representative. The association of foster care families in Wallonia-Brussels was invited at federal level (La Chambre), parents associations in schools testified the need to get clearer parental authority definitions for foster children. Representatives of the healthcare and education systems also emphasised the juridical grey zone and its implications for children in foster care. At La Porte Ouverte, we hope that the new law will be implemented with due respect to all children in foster care and their families in Belgium. Enhancing the dichotomy between birth families and foster families who are daily working on bridging the solidarity gap should not be the way forward”.
According to 2016 Opening Doors country fact sheet, there were 9,697 children in both foster and kinship care in Belgium: 3,639 children in Wallonia, 6,058 children in Flanders and 59 children in the German speaking community. In Wallonia Brussels, 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.
Read more about progress with care reform in Belgium here.