What place for deinstitutionalisation in the Child Guarantee action plans?
Since March 2022, half of the EU countries have published their national plans to implement the Child Guarantee until 2030. Here you can find the national plans for Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden.
The Child Guarantee addresses children ‘in need’,including children with disabilities and children who live in residential care. The objective is for them to access early childhood education and care, education and school-based activities, healthcare, adequate housing, and healthy nutrition.
At EASPD we are analysing each action plan focusing on children with disabilities. We first took the Spanish action plan as a good example in this article. Now we will focus on the planned actions to ensure the transition of children from institutional care to quality community-based care. This process is known as ‘deinstitutionalisation’.
As the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child declares, children should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding, and when this is not possible they shall be entitled to special protection and alternative care.
Alternative care may be provided in the so-called institutions, that according to the European Expert Group on the transition from institutional to community-based care, are setting where:
- Children are isolated from the broader community and/or compelled to live together.
- Children do not have sufficient control over their lives and over decisions which affect them.
- The requirements of the organisation itself take precedence over the residents’ individual needs.
Children growing up in institutions have higher risk of abuse or neglect and tend to lag behind in their emotional development and cognitive performance. Despite this, there are still an estimated 345,000 children living in institutions in the EU today.
The European Union promotes the transition away from institutional care, called deinstitutionalisation (or DI) through policy and funding. DI for children means primarily stopping them being separated from their families whenever possible. This means sufficient (including financial) support to families; and access to education and the other services in the community. In the case of children with disabilities this means also the provision of early childhood intervention services, which have a significant impact on a child’s ability to learn new skills, overcome challenges, and reach their full potential. Also, they empower parents and caregivers to better understand and support their children.
When it is impossible for a child to remain with his or her family, the next step should be to facilitate entry into a family setting via foster care.
If residential services are provided to children, this should be a temporary solution (a period of months and not years), with planned transition towards family care is underway. For residential services to be community-based their location must be in the community; their size family-like, and the support should be built with the children, based on their choice, needs and wishes.
What are the EU countries plans?
From the 14 EU Countries that published their action plans to implement the European Child Guarantee, Malta, Poland, and Spain were the only countries mentioning the concept of ‘deinstitutionalisation’. Croatia and Italy used the concept to ‘prevent institutionalisation’ and Belgium and Sweden stated to ‘ensure the transition of children from institutional to quality community-based’.
Malta, Poland and Spain showed to be the ones putting more emphasis. As we highlighted in this article, particularly relevant is the Spanish National Deinstitutionalisation Strategy, which plans to have no children under 10 years old lives in residential care. Poland will carry on to de-institutionalise psychiatric care for children and adolescents and to increase the role of community services.
Malta provides an allowance to foster carers and for community children’s homes. For the children in alternative care, the plan establishes community living, tailor-made plans and regular assessment which are foreseen to establish the possibility of returning to the biological family. Access to education and local services, after care services for children in care for children in care aged 15-17 years, and plans to support the person leaving institutional care to facilitate their independent living are also mentioned.
Other initiatives are in Italy, where they will extend the Intervention Programme for the Prevention of Institutionalisation, and in Ireland, that will provide a National Housing Strategy for Disabled People 2022 – 2027.
As general conclusions, we saw different emphasis on this important issue among the different countries. This can depend on the fact that some already worked on deinstitutionalisation, but also on a lack of political will, as the Child Guarantee plans provide additional possibilities to gather funding and data to monitor the progress.
Finally, we encourage the countries which did not yet published their national plans, to get inspired by these examples of a Child Guarantee that helps to end institutionalisation.
Let’s act together to make the EU Child Guarantee a reality!