Bosnia and Herzegovina becomes a step closer towards transformation of its child protection system. On February 15th 2016, the House of Representatives of the Federal Parliament (FBIH) voted in favour of the Law on foster care, previously approved by the House of People. The law defined principles of foster care provision, legal age of staying in care and regulates financial compensation for the care givers. This was defined by the need for harmonization of the legal framework and practices with the international standards.
By adopting the law, FBiH has made a huge leap forward towards strengthening the system of social care for the most vulnerable categories of the population, including children and their families. The ultimate goal of this law was to allow more children to grow up in families that will ensure proper growth and development, rather than in large institutions, and that in the long run will reduce allocations for placement of children, as the care of children through foster care system is more economical than through institutions.
For many years the European Commission in BiH through its Progress Report pointed out that the number of children who are placed in 15 institutions across BiH is not reducing, and that the concept of foster care as a more favorable form of care for children underdeveloped. Since 2005, almost identical observations were given by the Committee on the Rights of the Child of the United Nations, providing recommendations to Bosnia and Herzegovina to develop foster care as an alternative form of care for children without parental care.
Guided by the recommendations and suggestions, the Government of FBIH back in January 2008 adopted a Policy on protection of children without parental care and families at risk of separation in FBIH 2006 – 2016, clearly indicating its intention to, among other things, develop and strengthens family based care and increase the number of children placed in foster families. This decision was followed by the adoption of the Action Plan for the implementation of that policy which envisages creation of a special law that would clearly and precisely define the area of foster care, and create preconditions for placement of greater number of children into families.
Furthermore, the FBiH Government in July 2014 also adopted the Strategy of deinstitutionalization and transformation of social protection system in the FBiH (2014-2020), stating that ” strategy represents a commitment of the Federal Government that, with the support of the cantonal governments continues its public commitment to increase the quality of life of children ….. This document, at the same time, represents a response to the need for systemic changes to be implemented in the field of traditional placement of children in institutional care. „ The strategy also suggests the need to improve the existing legal framework which aims to develop a harmonized, efficient and sustainable system of foster care.
According to data in the Situation Analysis of children without parental care and families at risk of separation in FBIH, created by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and Hope and Homes for Children BiH, in 2014 there was a total of 1,008 children without parental care in FBIH growing up in different institutions, where they remain for as long as 10 years. Only 426 children without parental care was given the opportunity to grow up in foster care, mostly kinship, and only 79 children were placed in foster families who were not relatives. In recent years, with the support of non-governmental organizations in several cantons there were foster care campaigns which resulted with recruitment of new foster care families. According to the records of social welfare centers in FBiH there are in total 191 registered foster families, but only 75 of them have children in placement.
So far, the field of foster care is defined through 10 bleak points of the Law on Social Protection, Protection of Civilian War Victims and Families with Children, which define a few questions such as: who has the right to be placed in a foster family, who cannot be a foster parent, and obligations of the existence of the contract between the center for social work and foster parents.
With the adoption of the Law on Foster Care, government has created conditions for greater number of children to get an opportunity to experience living in a family, but also this introduces standards in service provision and ensures the same quality for all children placed into foster care, and will lead to decrease in number of children residing in institutions for years. The new Law defines for the first time some essential issues and clearly defines procedures. This includes the following:
- Clearly defined rights and obligations of foster families,
- Criteria for selection of foster families, mandatory education (both basic and advanced)
- Payment for foster families, as their engagement so far has not been financially rewarded, but there was a fee envisaged to cover the expenses of the children and it varied from one municipality to another depending on the economic power of the municipality (75 – 250 euros per month per child)
- Obligation of local centres for social work to support foster families and children placed to ensure purpose of the placement has been fulfilled, and obligation to provide a relevant expert to work with the child if necessary (i.e. psychologist, social worker, lawyer etc)
- individual approach in working with child being placed in a family, taking into account his/her specific needs, as opposite of institutional care where such approach is nonexistent and same approach is used for all issues children are facing
- In cases of children up to 3 years, priority is given to foster care placement, having in mind extensive research proving damage caused by institutionalisation of children at early age,
- necessity of matching foster families with the needs and characteristics of a child, as opposite of current practice of placing children into the first available foster family. Furthermore, by matching the capacities of the family to the need of the child, possibility of repeated placement due to incompatibility is minimised.
- necessity of creating an individual plan for each child placed with foster family, which in practice means a clear plan defining who, when and for how long will be providing specific support for the child and the family, duration of placement, method of monitoring progress achieved. The plan is to be changed if the situation requires, however mandatory revision is done at least once a year which aims to prevent children being “forgotten” in the system.
The adoption of this legislation was initiated by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, with great support of group of organisations lead by Hope and Homes for Children in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which also actively participated in the creation of the legislation itself.
Furthermore, lately we have seen progress also in Republic of Srpska (RS) which has adopted it’s Rulebook on Foster Care some years ago, and has greater number of children placed in foster care than FBIH. To further improve the foster care system, RS authorities have in the past year organised series of foster care trainings for the professionals in local centres for social work aiming to not only increase their competencies in this field, but also influence a shift from the traditional placement of children into institutions towards family based services.