“We are not sure about the future. Due to the capital controls, no one has money to spend. If I have one Euro in my pocket my neighbor probably has two” says Mary Theodoropoulou, Opening Doors for Europe’s Children coordinator in Greece and chair of the Roots Research Centre, an Athens-based organisation that works on reforming alternative care for children.
Ms Theodoropoulou, who monitors the living conditions of poor families and abandoned children, explains what it means to survive amidst the Greek crisis, “the €60 limit on cash withdrawals has hit the most vulnerable children the hardest ” she says. “Like anyone else, institutional care facilities also need to get their money from the bank, for transparency reasons. Can you imagine taking care of dozens of small children, some with disability, in this situation? It means feeding them and keeping them clean and happy”, she adds.
The situation for children in alternative care in Greece has always been critical; there are no real alternatives to institutions available for children or for families, which lack services and support to prevent their breakdown. “Due to the austerity cuts there is a shortage of social workers as public authorities cannot hire new staff. In addition foster carers who take care of disabled abandoned children are not being paid and the children’s allowances are no longer guaranteed”, Ms Theodoropoulou says.
Before the capital controls she visited 12 institutions. She went to a residential home for children located in Athens where 3-5 year olds are placed. There she witnessed a high number of children and poor resources: “there is not enough space for the children and not enough staff. They are relying a lot on volunteers. It is a place with more than twenty children and only one woman hired to cleaning the whole institution”, she refers.
Ms Theodoropoulou also says that the country is short on medicines, “they are difficult to import because companies ask money upfront” she says. She is worried this could endanger children with illness and disabilities.
In another public institution for older children in Athens, “youngsters are anxious about finding a job for the summer as their pocket money has been cut”. “They are at summer camp now and they will stay there an extra week so that their institutions can save some money”, Ms Theodoropoulou adds.
Ms Theodoropoulou calls on the government to prioritise assistance to those in need, “most urgently we need cash for the most vulnerable and also long-term reforms of the welfare in general. I hope our government will negotiate for the best of the whole community.”
Today, the Roots Research Centre, Hope and Homes for Children and Eurochild, who are leaders of the Opening Doors Campaign launched a policy Position Paper at the European Expert Group (EEG) Seminar on institutional care, in Athens, Greece. The Paper addresses main issues and offers solutions for the reform of the Child protection System in Greece.