The Opening Doors for Europe’s Children – a pan-European campaign advocating for strengthening families and ending institutional care – is supporting the international human rights organisation Mental Disability Advocacy Center in their call for the nationwide closure of institutions in Hungary.
The call was preceded by the release of a report detailing findings from investigations conducted in Topház Special Home, a large-scale residential care institution for children and adults with disabilities in the Hungarian town of Göd, approximately 30km from the capital city Budapest.
Following six months of rejected requests to conduct monitoring, MDAC human rights monitors discovered truly shocking conditions including indications of torture and ill treatment. “The conditions, abusive practices and evidence of violence seen in this institution are the result of systemic failings in law, policy, and regulation and a lack of effective and independent monitoring. The 220 people in Topház, like tens of thousands of other children and adults with disabilities in institutions in Hungary, continue to be warehoused away from the public gaze,” says Steven Allen, MDAC Campaigns Director.
“No legitimate justification now exists for the maintenance of state-run institutions for children with disabilities,” says Jana Hainsworth, Secretary General of Eurochild and the Opening Doors for Europe’s Children campaign leader. “There is a huge body of good practice demonstrating the feasibility of reforming mainstream services to provide more inclusive environments as well as of delivering specialised and intensive treatment and support that can ensure a high-quality family life even for the more severely disabled children,” she adds.
According to Opening Doors National Coordinator in Hungary Maria Herczog who contributed to investigation in Topház Special Home: “Not only do institutions like Topház not meet basic needs of their residents, they place them at a higher risk of abuse and neglect and seriously harm their health, well-being and development.” “The institutionalisation of children with disabilities is based on an outdated medical model of disability and is a direct violation of their human rights to life, protection, education, healthcare and family. Supporting children with disabilities must be at the heart of child care and child protection reform in Hungary. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child sets clear international standards on supporting children with disabilities and their families within local communities. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which EU ratified in 2010, also obliges States Parties to provide information, support and services to families to prevent the neglect and abandonment of children with disabilities,” she concludes.
Evidence from most of the Opening Doors campaign countries shows that children with disabilities are heavily over-represented in institutional care across Europe. Disability places them at particular risk of being institutionalised due to the lack of community-based support and inclusive education in the local areas. There is a misguided belief that children with disabilities are better cared for in residential institutions by the specialists rather than at home by their own families. This, in turn, leaves them more vulnerable to abuse and neglect as the case in Topház or recent exposure of maltreatment of children in the orphanage in Belarus testify.
In Belgium, children with disabilities are among the most discriminated categories that enter public care. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece and Serbia children with disabilities live in the same institutions as adults, and those entering institutions might have to spend their whole lives behind the closed doors as there are no opportunities for independent community living. Investment in prevention and support services at local level, including for vulnerable families or children with disabilities, is lagging behind. Out of 50,308 children in institutions in Poland, 25,170 are children with disabilities. Over 60% of children in institutional care in Serbia are children with disabilities and almost all of them are excluded from education. Despite the fact there are more than 400 institutions for children with disabilities in Ukraine, there is only 1% of psychologists, less than 2% of speech therapists and only 0.1% of occupational therapists among personnel of such institutions. There is also an insufficient number of foster carers especially for children with disabilities and children with severe health problems.
In order to translate into practice a wide consensus on the need for action and to accelerate progress towards the transition from institutional to family- and community-based care for children in Europe, the experience from across the region shows that four key conditions must be in play at national level:
- Political commitment must be present at local and national level in order to create lasting change.
- Funding must be available to cover transition and development costs as described in national strategies and action plans on deinstitutionalisation. Such investment allows budgets allocated to institutions to be used after their closure to sustain prevention and high quality alternative care.
- The know-how must exist in-country to implement reforms and make sure change is sustainable.
- Civil society must play an important role in the planning and delivery of reform and services and ensure that children’s voices are heard in decision-making.