There are no relevant policies in place to transform the outdated child care and child protection system in Greece where private interests prevail over the best interests of children. This was one of the conclusions of the 2nd International Conference “Experiences from the adoption triad and how to support children in need with alternative solutions”.
The event took place on 25-26 May 2017 in Marathon, Attica, Greece. The conference was organised by the Opening Doors National Coordinator in Greece, Roots Research Centre and brought together over 100 national and international participants including social workers, child protection experts, practitioners and social work students.
First day of the conference was focused on functioning of the adoption system in Greece. The conference was opened by the prosecutor in the Lower Court of Athens, however, in his opening speech he failed to mention any challenges that the complicated adoption system in Greece currently faces and which has already revealed many weaknesses. Highlights from the first day included personal testimonies from the adult adoptees from the Netherlands showing that the adoption procedures that took place in 1960’s in Greece let thousands of children being adopted internationally down and often left important financial gain to the Greek authorities. Unfortunately, until today, there are many incidents of private adoptions in Greece that are not regulated by the state and which can potentially lead to children’s trafficking cases, as reflected in conference presentations. Foreign experts shared their countries’ perspectives on child protection. National experts from the field called for a better regulation of the adoption system in Greece and for the right of the adopted person to find roots of their origins.
Second day of the conference was dedicated to the functioning of the alternative care system in Greece and the ways forward. According to the latest available data, in 2014 there were 2,825 children and adults living in institutional care settings for children. In Greece, institutional care is the first response when a child is being separated from his or her family. It is of a worry that many institutional care settings, especially private and faith-based ones, are not regulated or supervised by the state, and neither do they follow any established child protection guidelines.
International experts from the US, India and Denmark, as well as the Opening Doors national coordinators from Hungary, Estonia and Romania presented good practices on transforming the child protection systems and deinstitutionalisation reforms in their countries. Other discussions included importance of prevention and early intervention, based on the findings of the Eurochild’s Childonomics project; a showcase of a project aimed to close down one of the most controversial institution in Greece with many reported incidents of violations of human rights. Ms Kouvaritaki, representative of Children’s Ombudsman Office called for an end of institutional care in Greece and for the development of quality care alternatives. She also urged the Government to ensure the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) that are not currently observed in Greece.
Katerina Nanou, Policy and Advocacy Officer from Eurochild and Coordinator of the Opening Doors for Europe’s Children Campaign commented on attending the event: “European Union and the EU Structural Funds have played a crucial role in deinstitutionalisation – a transition from institutional to family- and community- based care in many European countries. In Greece, there is an urgent need for adoption of a deinstitutionalisation strategy, followed by an action plan. It is a matter of political will and governmental priorities and we are disappointed that we do not see any representative from the responsible Ministries present at this important event.”
“Both days attracted a lot of interest and attention from the national and international stakeholders. We believe that our conference covered all important elements that make a child welfare system work: family support, deinstitutionalisation and transition to quality family- and community-based solutions. We hope that our message calling for action and meaningful governmental involvement was loud enough. Now we want to see actions coming from the decision makers,” concluded Ms Mary Theodoropoulou, chair of the Roots Research Centre.
The Opening Doors for Europe’s Children Campaign recommends to the Greek Government the following actions as a follow-up to the conference:
- Adoption of Deinstitutionalisation Strategy followed by a comprehensive Action Plan that will prioritise the deinstitutionalisation of children younger than 3 years of age and their placement in alternative family-based care solutions.
- The DI strategy and action plan should foresee the development of services in the community that will support families and children to prevent unnecessary institutionalisation of children and their separation from the parents.
- The elimination of institutional care and the development of quality alternatives for children, including children with disabilities.
- Introduction of quality standards based on internationally recognised child protection guidelines for institutional and alternative care.
- The support of children and young people that leave care and transit into independent living.
- Participation of children should be core in any decision making taking place.
- For the transition from an institutional care model to a family and community based model the Greek Government should secure appropriate allocation and spending of Structural Funds (ESIF) and ensure that services developed by these funds are sustainable and function also after the end of the EU-funded period.
- Also it should be secured that deinstitutionalisation strategy is funded by the national budget and that it supports family and community based care instead of institutional care for children.
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