The number of children without parental care who grow up in foster families for the first time exceeded the number of children living in institutions in Latvia, according to the data released by the State Inspectorate for the Protection of the Children’s Rights (VBTAI). At the same time, the share of children under the age of three who grow up in the state-run institutions dropped below 10 percent.
“These are very positive trends, suggesting that the inspectorate’s work and the overall changes introduced in this sphere are beginning to yield results. Custody courts have become more active in their search for a family environment for kids that have been left without families, they are developing the movement of foster families in their regions, and society and the media are also providing support to children in crisis more and more actively,” said Marianna Dreja, head of the State Inspectorate for the Protection of the Children’s Rights.
In 2017, there were 6,669 children deprived of parental care in Latvia, of whom 1,173 (18%) were placed in foster care and 4,459 children (67%) were under the legal guardianship or custody. 15% of children without parental care remained in institutions, however, their number reduced by 3% compared to 2016 (from 1,216 in 2016 to 1,037 in 2017).
Significant decline in the number of young children in state social care centres is also reported by the Latvian Ministry of Welfare. While in 2016, there were approximately 80 children under the age of three in public care, their number was reduced by half by November 2017. The Ministry underlines that the continued reduction in the number of young children living in the institutions and the shortened period of their stay – on average for two weeks – is a positive trend.
According to the National Coordinator of the Opening Doors campaign in Latvia, since 2015, important regulations and plans have been adopted by the Latvian Government to reform the system of child care and develop family- and community-based care solutions. 2015 marked a start of the reform as key documents, such as the Cabinet Regulations on the Implementation of Deinstitutionalisation (DI) and an Action Plan on DI were adopted. Since 2017, measures to improve the provision of alternative care through the EU funding (including €47 mln from European Social Fund and €44 mln from European Regional Development Fund – plus 15 % co-financing from state & municipality), State budget and other institutional donors have been taken to implement the Government plans. In addition, €3 million from the national budget were allocated to improve the remuneration, social contributions, guarantees and support to the foster families. Furthermore, in the coming year, professional foster care will be introduced in the country; training and selection processes of foster families will be reviewed. As a result, there has been an annual increase in the number of foster families. However, quality of care foster families as well as quality of services to support foster care families, are essential aspects that need more attention, the Opening Doors National Coordinator in Latvia says.
Along with ambitious targets to reduce the number of children in the long-term institutional care, the Government also aims to increase the availability of high-quality services at community and family level, and the availability of services for children and people with disabilities. Furthermore, it aims to develop community and family-based social services for children in institutional care, and for adults and children with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities living in families.
To raise awareness about the needs of one thousand of children who currently live in institutional care, a public awareness campaign under the slogan “Repair Childhood” was organised at the end of 2017 by the Ministry of Welfare, several NGOs and mass media. The first stage of the campaign concluded in 2017 and, as a result, €372,645 raised during the campaign will be used to support alternative care givers, such as candidate foster families, guardians or adoptive parents as well as families who already take care of children without parental care. The campaign will continue in 2018 through the implementation of different society-oriented educative and supporting activities in order to find community-based, family-like care solutions for children who still grow up in institutions for children.
“We see that the opinion of our society has changed so much over the course of the year. Not long ago residents believed that orphanages are needed, that they keep children warm and fed. Now, on the other hand, more and more people say guardians and foster families are far more important. No matter how pretty the orphanage, how friendly the staff is and how great toys are, such institutions cannot possibly provide children the much-needed family environment. Not because they would not, rather because such an institution is not meant to provide something like that. Now society has said a strict ‘no’ to orphanages. We plan to have liquidated these institutions in our country by 2021,” says Jānis Reirs, Minister of Welfare of Latvia.
The Opening Doors campaign welcomes that the Latvian government has undertaken efforts to reform the child protection system in Latvia. We acknowledge the important steps made to improve the foster care system and welcome the open and cooperative approach towards NGOs and other stakeholders. To further reform of the alternative care system in Latvia, we call upon the government to provide practical information on how the system of foster care will be improved in 2018. Sufficient attention should be also paid to develop family-like care and to ensure that children with serious health problems who are currently in institutional care are also offered a quality care solution. Furthermore, DI plans should be developed by the municipalities based on a unified understanding of the DI process in Latvia – which has to be a complex process, including prevention services and services to support leaving care process.