September 2018 marks the start of a national campaign to promote foster care in Croatia. The campaign was launched on 28 August 2018 by the Ministry of Demography, Family, Youth and Social Affairs and UNICEF, in collaboration with the Forum for Quality Foster Care. The campaign aims to increase the number of caring foster families for children without parental care. It will have a particular focus on foster care provision for children at an early age. A free telephone line will provide citizens interested in fostering with all the necessary information.
According to the latest data from the Ministry of Demography, Family, Youth and Social Affairs, currently there are 2,259 children and young people in foster care in Croatia. At the same time, 814 children remain in homes for children without parental care, of whom 169 children live in residential community-based care and 90 children are between the age of 0 and 3.
Evidence from the Opening Doors campaign shows that children under the age of three are still being institutionalised instead of being directly placed in family-based care solutions in Croatia. This is particularly alarming as research from across the world demonstrates that living in institutions can cause significant lifelong harm to children’s physical and psychological development, particularly at an early age,.
“A loving family is the best environment for a child to grow up in,” says Valentina Otmačić, head of UNICEF Office in Croatia. “Numerous studies in recent decades proved adverse effects of institutionalisation on young children. Health-related and cognitive difficulties, developmental delays in language and speech, behavioral difficulties are just some of the negative consequences of growing up in institutions. We therefore call upon caring families who want and can provide warm, family environment to girls and boys without parental care that they open their hearts and doors to these children,”she added.
According to the Opening Doors campaign coordinator in Croatia, prejudices against foster care and inconsistent political will to transform the care system fully and transparently have been one of the main challenges that stalled the progress over the past years.
In June 2018, the Government of Croatia pledged to reinforce national efforts towards deinstitutionalisation. During the roundtable “Deinstitutionalisation of Social Care in Croatia”, organized by the European Commission and the World Bank in June 2018, State Secretary of the Ministry of Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy Marija Pletikosa announced that the new foster care legislation will be adopted by the end of the year. The new legislation will make foster care professionalized and foster parents in Croatia will start receiving wages. Another important commitment announced by the Government of Croatia at the meeting was the adoption of the new Action Plan on deinstitutionalisation planned for July 2018. It should have followed up the Master Plan on deinstitutionalisation completed in 2016 and extended by 2018. The new Action Plan should have included continuity of the care reform such as the inclusion of homes that were not included in the first Operational plan, development of community-based social services and preventing new placements in the institutions in Croatia.
However, up to date, the new Master Plan on deinstitutionalisation has not been adopted in Croatia. Acknowledging the renewed Governmental commitment towards the development of family-based care, particularly for children at an early age, the Opening Doors for Europe’s Children calls on the adoption of the new Action Plan on deinstitutionalisation. This will enable systemic implementation of the child protection reform at national level as well as effective oversight of how national and EU funds are used for deinstitutionalisation. Action should also be taken to address significant delays in the implementation of ESIF funds and to secure their efficient use. National budget must be ring-fenced to ensure continuation of the EU- funded interventions after the end of the funding period.
]OHCR, Forgotten Europeans, Forgotten Rights – The Human Rights of Persons Placed in Institutions, 2011, p.6.
K. Browne, The Risk of Harm to Young People Children in Institutional Care, 2009, pp.9-17.