EU commits to supporting deinstitutionalisation in landmark decision

The European Parliament delivered a landmark decision for children yesterday as MEPs voted on the key rules that will govern the European Structural Funds for the next seven years – 325 billion Euros were secured to invest in cohesion policy in the period 2014-2020.

Explicit references to deinstitutionalisation are now included in the Regulations on the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund, among others. The vote confirms the commitment of EU institutions to support Member States who are struggling to reform their care systems.

Eurochild and Hope and Homes for Children see this as an historical opportunity for the EU and Member States to deliver real change for children and families and paves the way to ending institutional care for children in Europe. The timing couldn’t be more opportune, as this landmark decision fell on 20 November – Universal Children’s Day.

The evidence is clear: institutional care is damaging to children and damaging to society. It is incompatible with the protection of children’s rights and is a very poor use of public money. Yet, in the past EU structural funds have been misused to perpetuate segregation of children and other vulnerable groups in institutions. Eurochild and Hope and Homes for Children, together with like-minded NGOs and coalitions, have advocated to reverse this trend and to ensure EU funds are used to support children and families in the community.

This closely follows the the European Commission’s Recommendation ‘Investing in children – breaking the cycle of disadvantage’ announced in February 2013 which included our call for a halt to any expansion of institutional care in Member States. The Recommendation calls on Member States to strengthen preventative social services, support vulnerable families and ensure that children removed from parental care grow up in an environment that meets their needs. It also calls on States to use the Structural Funds to support the transition from institutional to community-based care.

Jana Hainsworth, Eurochild Secretary General, commented on the vote: “Having references to de-institutionalisation in the Structural Funds regulations is a key objective of the Opening Doors campaign. The Parliament’s decision is a reason to rejoice, but our work is far from finished. The focus will now shift to Member States, who are already drafting funding programmes and have the main responsibility to promote children’s rights”.

Delia Pop, Hope and Homes for Children’s Director of Programmes, added: “The Opening Doors campaign is acting as a catalyst to create far-reaching national coalitions of civil society organisations united around a common goal and making real changes to the lives of children and families on the ground.

“The intention of the Regulations released yesterday is clear: children belong in families and EU money cannot be used to support their segregation in facilities which damage and stigmatise them. Together with our partners, we will continue to advocate tirelessly for every cent of EU funds to be used in line with these provisions and Member States’ commitments to children’s and human rights”.

Look out for our detailed response and analysis in the coming weeks. See also Eurochild’s Statement on Cohesion Policy breakthrough, 20 November 2013.