Yearly NGO assessment of National Reform Programmes says DI is a “key challenge”

A new NGO assessment of National Reform Programmes (NRPs) submitted to the EU semester process mentions deinstitutionalisation (DI) as a “key challenge” in several European countries

Every year Opening Doors Leader Eurochild and its member organisations, carry out an analysis of the National Reform Programmes (NRPs) – a document which presents the countries’ policies and measures to sustain growth and to reach the Europe 2020 targets. NRPs are submitted by Member States to the EU each spring, in the course of the EU Semester process. Eurochild assess the extent to which child poverty and social exclusion have featured in the 2014 NRPs and National Social Reports (NSRs).

This year’s analysis particularly considers whether the NRPs have taken into account the Commission’s Social Investment Package (SIP) and the EC Recommendation on child poverty and well-being (Investing in children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage); which were launched in February 2013. The compiled analysis of responses provides an EU-wide overview of the commitment to fight child poverty and social exclusion.

This year’s report mentions the reduction of the number of children in institutional care and the development of family care and community based services for children as a “key challenge in several countries”. While the issue of DI is addressed to some extent in several NRPs and NSRs, NGOs consider that more needs to be done; for example in:

Bulgaria: the Government is focusing on the implementation of pilot projects primarily targeted at closing homes for children and developing new smaller residential care units and alternative services. There is also a need to focus on prevention and parenting support in the undertaken deinstitutionalisation reform as well as the implementation of effective integrated strategies that ensure a holistic approach to deinstitutionalisation and access to services essential for children’s outcomes, such as education including pre-school, health, housing and social services. Furthermore, a ring-fencing mechanism should be developed which redirects the funds from the closed institutions to services for children and families.

Czech Republic: the NRP states that legislation will be prepared on family support, foster care and protection of children’s rights which will unify the care for vulnerable children. Support shall continue to be given to the professionalisation of foster care, children’s participation in the processes that affect them and deinstitutionalisation of care. However, the issue of deinstitutionalisation should be further elaborated upon considering the fact that the Czech Republic is the EU country with highest number of institutionalised children compared to the overall population. Also there is no reference to de-institutionalisation in the NSR.

Estonia: the state intends a transition to family-based upbringing instead of having big children’s homes, through the establishment of family homes for 6 to 8 children. With the leadership of several non-profit organisations, foster parents are trained to look after children who need alternative care.

Slovakia: deinstitutionalisation is addressed in the NRP and in the Operational Programmes of the new Structural Funds’ programming period. The main measure is to cover the increasing personal expenses of carers and educators. On the other hand, the crucial conditions for achieving real deinstitutionalisation – availability and affordability of decent housing for families with children – are neglected.  

In Portugal the NRP represents a step back with no mention of deinstitutionalisation, and a reference to financial assistance to support institutions which provide residential care to children through an increase in direct transfer to institutions by EUR 700 per child per month.

In some instances Eurochild members point to positive initiatives that are being taken in this area on a national level, but which are not being reported on in the NRP. However, attention for the importance of DI is needed to further strengthen these initiatives, for instance:

In Hungary the modification of the Child Protection Act in 2013 means that children under 12 cannot be placed in children’s homes, only with foster parents as of 1 January 2014 and children in institutions also have to be placed in foster homes, but there are no provisions on prevention and reunification. 

In Lithuania prevention/intervention work is foreseen, however the importance of deinstitutionalisation is not stressed sufficiently.

In Poland the results of the first ministerial programme in the area of family support and the foster care system was announced in March 2014, providing from the state budget co-financing for the employment of 2872 family assistants in communes and for the employment of 916 family-based foster care co-ordinators in different municipalities. Ministerial programmes for co-financing certain tasks of local government units within the scope of family support and the foster care system will be implemented in 2014.

The Commission is currently drafting its Staff Working Documents which will feed into the next Annual Growth Survey. Opening Doors leaders hope that the Commission will take these considerations into account and that these will reflect deinstitutionalisation as an important priority for children across Europe.

Download the NRP assessment.

Read more about the Semester process.