Opening Doors contributes to the new legislation on family-based care in Greece


On 26 April 2018, representatives of the Opening Doors Campaign were invited to the Hellenic Parliament to participate in the consultation with representatives of children’s rights organisations regarding the draft law on adoption and foster care. Following the hearing of the Permanent Parliamentary Committee on Social Affairs, the Hellenic Parliament passed the draft of the new legislation on 2 May 2018. “This is a progressive law which will enable the development of family-based forms of care for children in Greece which, in turn, will catalyse deinstitutionalisation reforms at national level,” say Katerina Nanou, Policy and Advocacy Officer at Eurochild and Coordinator of the Opening Doors for Europe’s Children Campaign and Mary Theodoropolou, Director of the Roots Research Center who coordinates the Opening Doors Campaign in Greece at national level. 

According to the first nationwide mapping study of institutional and residential care for children in Greece, carried out by the Opening Doors National Coordinator in 2014, there were an estimated 2,825 children and young people in institutional care and only 309 children in family-based care. Evidence from campaign’s 2017 country fact sheet shows that Greece is a country with the long-standing culture of using institutions for its population. Institutional care is not questioned by the State or general public; the majority of institutional care facilities are run by the state; there are also many private actors as well as faith-based organisations that run unregistered institutional care settings. Until recently, institutional care has been conceived as the most appropriate type of care for children deprived of parental care. There has been some recent awareness raising developments regarding the benefits of family and community-based care. For example, even before the new legislation on foster care has been adopted, children under the age of three were no longer placed in institutions but went directly into family-based care or for adoption. This did not apply, however, to children with disabilities who are still being sent to institutions for children.

During the parliamentary committee hearing on 26 April 2018, both representatives of the Opening Doors campaign highlighted the importance of international framework, specifically the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care for Children, when working on the draft and further implementing this proposed new legislation. Katerina Nanou drew attention to the necessity and suitability principle of the UN Guidelines on the Alternative Care for Children, saying that “Although foster care is a very strong and very important measure for alternative care of children, it should not be the only measure. According to the suitability principle, a range of services should be in place that will suit the individual needs of children.” She added, “In the same manner, foster care and the transition from institutional to family- and community-based care, will not be possible if sustainable and well-structured community-based services that could support families at risk, foster families or children ageing out of  care are not in place.” Ms Nanou concluded that particular support should be given to children and youth ageing out of the care system to ensure that they are well supported and for the period of time that each one of them needs. “The age of 18 should not lead to the end of support to young people leaving alternative care in Greece.” Both Mary and Katerina emphasized that the new legislation and the professionals working for and with children should ensure that individualised support should be provided to all children and the voices of children, their needs and wishes should be taken into account.

According to Opening Doors National Coordinator in Greece, foster care has been greatly underdeveloped in Greece. Moreover, due to the lack of community-based services and financial support, young adults with disabilities who grew up in foster families are even re-institutionalised. In her speech at the parliament, Mary Theodoropolou said: “Foster care parents should receive adequate training and ongoing support, both emotional and financial, in order to be able to provide the best for the children.” “Social workers should also receive necessary training, as foster care has not been seen as an alternative care option in Greece,” she added. Ms Theodoropolou called for an immediate closure of baby institutions. “It is important if we want to proceed with deinstitutionalisation reforms. We should also ensure that all institutions are registered and that a clear plan for deinstitutionalisation reforms is in place,” she concluded.

It is expected, that the new legislation will help to reduce the procedural burden of foster care and will ensure investment in public awareness raising, training and supervision of foster carers. Overall, the new legislation is a good step forward towards the development of quality family-based care in Greece. However, since Greece has been identified by the EU as a country with a specific need for deinstitutionalisation reforms, to meet this priority and to use the allocated EU structural funds for these reforms, the development of a deinstitutionalisation strategy and action plan is crucial to ensure among others the sustainability of reforms.

In related news: