"People with severe mental and combined disabilities are very vulnerable. They are often completely dependent on the care of those around them. It is all the more serious to find that they are exposed to mistreatment in what should be a safe home for them. This is unacceptable," says Ombudsman Stanislav Křeček, referring to a recent article published in the weekly magazine Respekt about cases of abused and even killed clients of several social services institutions.
One of the cases mentioned in the article (Czech only) is the situation in the Domov pod lípou in the Central Bohemian Region. The Ombudsman confirms that, based on the findings of his visit to the home, he has filed a criminal complaint against the provider of this social service. He will not provide any further details until the investigation is concluded.
The Public Defender od Rights deals with the protection of the rights of people with disabilities at several levels. Under his mandate of National Preventive Mechanism (prevention ill-treatment) for the past 16 years he has been visiting institutions where people are restricted in their personal freedom. This includes places where people dependent on care live, such as homes for people with disabilities and homes for the elderly. Since 2018, the Ombudsman has also been monitoring how the Czech Republic fulfils the rights enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). During that time, the Ombudsman has repeatedly highlighted both specific cases of failure (Czech only) to care for people in institutions and systemic shortcomings (Czech only).
In the Czech Republic, for example, large institutions still predominate and there is a lack of community-based social services that would enable people with disabilities to lead independent lives as required by Article 19 of the Convention. Especially for people with so-called challenging behaviour, large institutions are a completely inappropriate environment in which to live. "Some services are unable to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable people with disabilities, they are unable to create support appropriate to their individual needs. People living in institutions are often still adapting to the system, when it should be the just other way around and services should respond to the needs of clients," says Romana Jakešová, a lawyer who heads the Department for the Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the Ombudsman's Office.
According to the Ombudsman, problems must also be prevented directly by social service providers. They must not only protect the interests of their clients and set up adequate support for them, but at the same time they must also create adequate conditions for the staff who actually provide the services. Given the demands of their work, staff should receive adequate psychological and supervisory support. "This is also linked to the education of the staff. For working with people with challenging behaviour and high levels of support, a course of a few weeks and subsequent training cannot be sufficient. The remuneration of social services staff should also correspond to the difficulty of the work," Romana Jakešová summarises.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs also has a crucial role to play in ensuring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and, above all, in setting the financing and quality of social services, including their control. "Some of the facilities we have visited as part of the prevention of ill-treatment, however, have never had an inspection of social services in the entire period of their existence," the Ombudsman points out.
According to the Register of Social Service Providers, there are 208 homes for people with disabilities in the Czech Republic, yet the Social Services Quality Inspectorate visited only two last year, according to the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. And the numbers were no higher even before covid pandemic.
"I am pleased that during our visits we regularly meet examples of good practice and motivated staff as well as the management of homes. But we must not stop trying to improve the conditions of those who do not live in good environments. Just because we do not see people in institutions does in our everyday lives not mean that they do not exist. On the contrary. We should be more interested in how we can support them so that they too can lead a good life. The public discussion of these problems also contributes to making people with disabilities stop being invisible," concludes Ombudsman Stanislav Křeček, adding that he is ready to work with the Ministry and the Government Commissioner for Human Rights on systemic changes.