Deinstitutionalization under the spotlight at European Parliament – Discussing the way forward

Hope and Homes for Children in Bosnia 2011

Last week, the Opening Doors campaign brought a Bulgarian family to the European Parliament to testify about how children with disabilities are still being separated from their families and segregated from society on the advice of medical and social care professionals.

The mother shared her experience of being separated from her son at birth and during he first six months of his life, upon following the doctors’ advice. “One conversation about what Down syndrome is and about the support available and our son would have come home with us right after he was born”, she said.

Despite it being widely known that institutions foster human rights abuses, hundreds of thousands of children are still being placed in these closed spaces across the European Union (EU), suffering from the life-long impact of institutionalization.

That is why the European Expert Group on the transition from institutional to community-based care (EEG) brought the issue under the spotlight at a high-level debate organised on 10 December at the European Parliament, aiming to open the discussion on how the new European Commission and European Parliament could support deinstitutionalization reforms.

Hasan Bermek, Adviser to the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that the EU “should call for a moratorium on placing people in institutions and on all member states to stop new placements in institutional care immediately”. EU Commissioner for Regional Policy, Corina Cretu, addressed the audience through a video message and stated that “there is no alternative to the transition from institutional to community based care”.

The EEG also called on the EU to concretely promote and support the transition from institutional to community-based care. They urged the European institutions to make use of all the available political and financial instruments they have to ensure that the deinstitutionalization process continues and is actively promoted. (statement available here)

The event showed that there is an urgent need of reform of care systems across Europe to ensure they support the needs, choices and autonomy of individuals and of the families that care for them.