In 2014, Lithuania adopted a seven-year Action Plan for the transition from institutional care to family- and community-based services for people with disabilities and children deprived of parental care. A comprehensive reform of the child protection system is currently being implemented within its framework. Initiated by the Ministry of Social Security and Labour under the slogan “Family – for children, community-based services – for persons with disabilities”, the institutional care reform (also known as Reformation or Pertvarka) has a clear focus on prevention of children and people with disabilities entering institutional care.
After the first phase of the reform which focused on the restructuring as well as increasing availability and accessibility of services, the reform entered a second phase in mid-2018, focusing on the development of regional infrastructure for family- and community-based services. Consequently, the Lithuanian government has established the Child Protection and Adoption Department under the Ministry of Social Security and Labour, integrating regional child protection agencies under its umbrella. Thanks to the centralisation, the government has also created a case management service to identify the child protection issues and address them in an efficient way.
The majority of children enter alternative care in Lithuania due to potential harm caused by child abuse and neglect (1,894 out of 2,524 cases in 2018). Since the introduction of a new child protection system, 524 children entered care in June 2018 and 569 in August 2018.
The number of institutions for children have decreased from 96 in 2017 to 90 in 2018, while the number of institutions for children with disabilities remain the same (four). At the same time, the number of children in these institutions has significantly decreased: from 460 in 2016 to 165 in 2017. Children under the age of 3 are placed directly in professional foster care. This form of alternative care has been finally recognised by Lithuanian legislation in March 2018. According to the new law, each municipality in Lithuania has now the duty to develop a network of care centres responsible for recruitment, training and support of professional foster carers. In addition, small group home projects are piloted nationwide and have proved so far to be an effective measure to organised care provision.
During the current funding period, €76 million of structural funds have been allocated for the transition from institutional to community-based care in Lithuania. Out of €76 million, €38 million have been allocated for the development, piloting and implementation of the new social services; the remaining amount is used towards the development of infrastructure. Most recently, €14 million have been allocated to the municipalities across Lithuania to strengthen the role of small group homes and day care centers for children.
Despite strong commitment and active engagement of the Lithuanian government in deinstitutionalisation reform which makes feasible progress nationwide, the lack of continuity measures in the projects planning presents a challenge to developing a well-functioning and sustainable network of services in some regions.
Key recommendations to the national government:
- Take action to develop the network of professional foster care for children in long-term care and ensure that policies/legal framework regulates this area
- Foster care should be categorized according to individual needs of the child and specific issues children face (sexual abuse, substance misuse, disabilities, etc)
- Take measures to develop the leaving care system to support young people leaving care and an effective family-oriented system of prevention services in Lithuania
Key recommendations to the EU:
- The EU should promote and invest in early prevention and family strengthening services in order to avoid the family breakdown
- The EU should promote and invest in comprehensive deinstituionalisation strategies which ensure a full range of quality care options for children without parental care
- The EU should promote and invest in a strategy to support young care leavers when they leave or age out of care