Reports highlight need for alternatives to institutional care

“Placement of children – including those under three years of age – in institutions is still society’s main response to disability, poverty or perceived lack of parental skills, rather than a measure of protection from abuse, from which these societies often fail to protect children,” said the regional representative of the UN Human Rights office in Europe, Jan Jařab, at the launch of two UN reports highlighting the human rights situation of persons in institutional care in Europe and Central Asia.

A disabled child is tied to a wheelchair in Subotica, Serbia, in 2007 © MDRI PhotoForgotten Europeans Forgotten Rights” (PDF file), a report by the UN Human Rights Regional Office for Europe, finds that nearly 1.2 million children and adults with disabilities live in long-stay residential institutions across the European Union countries and Turkey. The report also outlines international and European human rights standards relevant to addressing the situation of individuals in institutions.

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than 626,000 children reside in institutions in Europe and Central Asia. The UNICEF study, entitled “At Home or in a Home – Formal care and adoption of children in Eastern Europe and Central Asia”, provides an analysis of data gathered from 1989 to 2007, as well as an overview of trends and major concerns about formal care and adoption in these regions. 

While acknowledging reforms undertaken in the child care systems of each of the countries of these regions, the two studies highlight that gaps still remain. Government policies, they state, should steer away from institutions towards in-home, residential and other community support services, and tackle the root causes of placement.
At the launch hosted in Brussels, Belgium, by the Irish Member of the European Parliament, Mairead McGuiness, the UN entities emphasized the crucial need for a shift in attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities, older persons and children deprived of parental care, from “objects” to individuals with the same entitlement as everyone to enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

McGuiness said that greater pressure was needed in order to speed-up reforms for the “faceless and voiceless people” in institutions. “I will be putting pressure on the Commission to ensure that EU funding is not being used to maintain inappropriate institutions,” she said.

“We need to encourage proper budget allocations for supporting vulnerable families through the development of appropriate family-based services,” said Jean-Claude Legrand, Regional Advisor on Child Protection of the UNICEF Regional Office for Central and Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States. “Resources should be allocated to develop appropriate local services allowing alternative solutions for children under three years of age, with special attention to the needs of children with disabilities,” he added.

16 August 2011