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Czech platform for institutionalized children calls on Gov't to simplify its child welfare system

13.9.2015 1:05
Christmas at a children's home in the Czech Republic. (PHOTO:  Archive of Lukáš Kotlár)
Christmas at a children's home in the Czech Republic. (PHOTO: Archive of Lukáš Kotlár)

Vteřina poté ("One Second Later"), an independent platform in the Czech Republic advocating for the rights of institutionalized children, has sent an open letter to Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Czech Labor and Social Affairs Minister Michaela Marksová, Czech Education Minister Kateřina Valachová, Czech Health Minister Svatopluk Němeček and Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier calling on them to fulfill the Government's pledge to simplify its care system for at-risk children. The Government made that pledge in its National Strategy for the Protection of the Rights of the Child in 2012.

The letter was also signed by members of the general public and representatives of non-profit human rights organizations. It points out that the Czech Republic is one of the last European Union countries to provide care for at-risk children in a fragmented way, where different parts of policy are acted on by different ministries.      

The provision of services to at-risk children and families is currently regulated by at least four different laws distributing this agenda between the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, the Health Ministry, and the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry. This fact ultimately results in the Czech system for the care of at-risk children being based on a large number of children who are removed from their families, which produces an absolutely disproportionate overuse of institutional care by the country as a whole compared to other EU Member States.  

The effective transformation of this system cannot happen as long as aid to at-risk children is based on the very different conceptual and philosophical approaches taken by each ministry, as well as their different ways of financing their systems, managing them, and planning their development. Since 2009 the Government has repeatedly pledged in its strategic documents to simplify and transform the system of care for at-risk children, but no specific steps have been taken in that direction and currently there are very worrying indications that no such steps will be taken in the near future either.  

A draft law regulating foster care, protection for children's rights and support for families which would have introduced the desired unification of this system was supposed to have been submitted in June but was not. The drafting of that law has been continually postponed over time and now there is concern among the expert public that it ultimately will never be drafted.  

Not all of the relevant ministries identify with the idea of unifying the existing approaches and not all of them have expressed willingness to work with each other in that direction. "At a round table convened by One Second Later in May of this year we heard different positions on the issue of unifying the system from the representatives of the Education Ministry and the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, but they both expressed willingness to collaborate and seek a compromise that would be confirmed with the other relevant ministries in a Memorandum of Cooperation. That Memorandum has been created, but it has yet to be signed and it is not certain that it ever will be. Moreover, we have gradually received the information that the Education Ministry is beginning to design its own procedure for this transformation. We certainly do not want to cast doubt on the need for institutional facilities for children to be transformed, but we would also like to emphatically point out that if unification of the system does not occur, the Czech Republic will have a very difficult time coping with the existing ailments of the system of care for at-risk children that linger on as the legacy of an outdated past," said Michal Ďorď, the Advocacy and PR Officer for "One Second After".  

The open letter calls on the PM and the relevant ministers to fulfill their obligations and submit a clear concept for the unification of services for at-risk children by the end of this year, including draft legislation. "There is a need for the cabinet members we have contacted to take up the question of unifying this system as part of their political responsibility and to begin consistently taking absolutely concrete steps in that direction. They must not delay, because with the upcoming elections there is a danger that the essential unification will again be indefinitely postponed. In the interim another generation of children will grow up who have been completely unnecessarily institutionalized, children who could, if support were available, remain in their own families or at least be placed with adoptive or foster families," said Radek Laci, Executive Director of "One Second Later". 

press release of Vteřina poté, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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