As the Bulgarian presidency continues to emphasise the importance of social Europe and the European Pillar of Social Rights, deinstitutionalisation remains high on the political agenda in the EU countries.
The European Platform for Investing in Children (EPIC) presents the current developments in the shift from institutional to community based care for children including information on current legislation, national strategies and relevant regional campaigns.
European efforts towards deinstitutionalisation
The process of deinstitutionalisation of the child care system refers to a shift in provision of services from institutional to community based, focusing on the integration of children into communities and wider society to avoid segregation and social exclusion.
As written in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, every child should be able to enjoy a standard of living that is adequate for their physical, mental and social development, and be able to grow up in a family environment in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding.
Receiving community-based services provides an opportunity to have adequate individual support that institutional care often cannot provide, and as a consequence, a good quality of life and the right to independent living.
The European Expert Group on the Transition from Institutional to Community-based care developed Common European Guidelines to help EU countries in the process of closing institutions and developing a range of services in the community in order to eliminate the need for institutional care.
In addition, to further support EU countries, the group developed a Toolkit on the Use of European Union Funds for the Transition from Institutional to Community Based Care.
Deinstitutionalisation was one of the focus areas of the past Estonian Presidency of the EU in 2017. As such, the “Dignity + Independent Living” conference held in Tallinn in October 2017 provided a platform to discuss the collaboration efforts of various stakeholders to providing support towards an inclusive life in a community-based environment.
The role of families was emphasised as a prevention measure to support independent living. In this respect, discussions focused on how to best support families through policy, legislative and funding measures at the EU and national level.
Currently, the Bulgarian presidency emphasises the importance of Social Europe and the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. One of the priorities of this Presidency is the social inclusion of people with disabilities and encouraging the implementation of the early childhood development concept.
With the financial support of the European Structural and Investment Funds, EU countries undertake the necessary reforms at the national level to shift to community-based services.
According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) reports, 60% of EU countries have deinstitutionalisation strategies or have at least adopted measures in a broader disability strategy. These strategies have clear target criteria and a timelines. For example:
- Lithuania has adopted a Child Welfare Action Plan for 2016-2018 which includes measures to develop various community-based social, educational, cultural and health care services to help children grow up in a family environment.
- Bulgaria has implemented the national strategy ‘Vision for the Deinstitutionalisation of Children’.
- Latvia aims to introduce a gradual transition from institutional care to family care in the time period from 2014 to 2020 for children who are left without parental care, and at the same time improve preventive and support measures for biological families.
Wider support for deinstitutionalisation
Since 2013 Eurochild have coordinated the Opening Doors for Europe’s Children campaign, which aims to support national efforts to develop child protection systems that strengthen families and provide high quality family and community-based alternative care for children. This work includes the leveraging of EU funding and policies to support and increase the capacity of civil society organisations in 16 countries in Europe.
The first stage of the campaign (2013-2015) ran in 12 European countries and focused on raising awareness about deinstitutionalisation by developing policies and action plans, collecting reliable data about children in institutions and advocating for the transition to community-based services. The second phase (ongoing) includes new partner organisations in 4 new countries.
Since 2014, the campaign has been collecting data on alternative care and status of deinstitutionalisation reforms through annual country fact sheets. These country sheets provide recent statistics and an overview of the characteristics and functioning of the child protection system, as well as what EU funding is available in each individual country.
In December 2017, the campaign also released a “Deinstitutionalisation of Europe’s Children: Questions and Answers” guide together with short quiz to test the knowledge on deinstitutionalisation.
Overall, there is a firm commitment to end institutional care at the EU and national level. However, deinstitutionalisation requires a multi-level integrated approach towards a number of policy areas. Despite progress, systematic efforts are still required to implement and evaluate reforms of children’s services in order to transform the lives of many children in Europe.