Support vulnerable families to reduce reliance on institutional care

10.09.2014 19:18

NEW YORK/GENEVA 10 September 2014 – At least 1.4 million children in 26 countries across Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia are growing up apart from their biological parents, often in institutional settings that can affect their development. Supporting families at risk of separation can reduce the need for institutional care and promote the right of all children to be raised in a nurturing family environment.

“Family-based care is the best option for children – and institutional care the least desirable alternative,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, at a discussion co-hosted with Bulgaria on the side of the September meeting of the UNICEF Executive Board. Croatia, Serbia, Turkey and Kazakhstan also presented at the event. “For when we place children in loving, supportive environments we do more than give them a safe home; we put them on the path to reaching their full potential and becoming fully contributing members of their societies.”

Institutional care can undermine children’s physical, intellectual and emotional development, and research shows that family and community-based services are more cost effective in the long run. A 2010 UNICEF study in Armenia for example found that placing a child for one year in an institution cost, on average, $3,800 in government support, compared to $2,800 in foster care, and far less if that child lived with her family.

Across the CEE / CIS:

- The number of children in institutions is decreasing, but around half of the 1.4 million children in the region who are growing up apart from their biological parents live in large-scale institutions.

- Nine of out 10 children living in institutional care have one or both parents alive.

- In some countries, children with disabilities represent up to 60 per cent of all children in institutions, due to the lack of specialized healthcare and inclusive education in their communities.

- Children from minority ethnic groups, children of single parents and other vulnerable groups are also disproportionately represented in institutions.

- Very young children are three to six times more likely to be abandoned or sent to formal care at a critical stage of their physical, mental, and emotional development.

Many countries in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia are making significant progress in reforming childcare.  In recent years, a strategic policy shift from placing children in institutions to supporting vulnerable families has helped avoid unnecessary family separation.

“In Bulgaria, on-going childcare reforms are helping more families stay together,” said H.E. Mr. Stephan Tafrov, Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the United Nations and Vice-President of the UNICEF Executive Board, who chaired the discussion.  “We need to build on this progress, strengthening support for parents and taking a more holistic and flexible approach that reflects the needs of individual families.” 

To date, fewer children under three are in institutional care, the proportion of children in infant homes has fallen, and more children in this age group are entering alternative community based family-type care or foster care in Bulgaria, he said.

UNICEF works with government partners to support childcare reforms specifically focused on the most vulnerable children and families, including legislation and policies, and high quality health, educational and social services. 

For more information:
Jacklin Tzocheva, Communication Officer, UNICEF Bulgaria
Tel.: +359 2 / 96 96 208

UNICEF works in more than 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

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UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. To save their lives. To defend their rights. To help them fulfill their potential. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, every day, to build a better world for everyone. And we never give up.