AKTUÁLNĚ: Українці, увага! Тут ви можете знайти важливі посилання з інформацією про ваше перебування в Чеській Республіці.

Published on June 10, 2022 News

The quality of care for children in institutional care is often based on the individual approach of staff and management. Systematic visits to homes and institutions have once again shown that children, as well as directors of institutions, would benefit from having laws to lean on

The summary report from the facilities for children, who – due to various reasons — cannot be cared for by their biological or foster family, provides an overview of findings from systematic visits to twelve children's homes and educational institutions. Lawyers from the Office of the Ombudsman, together with experts on children's issues, visited them in 2019-2021 as part of the agenda for the prevention of ill-treatment of people deprived of their liberty. The Deputy Ombudsman Monika Šimůnková, who is in charge of this agenda, then formulated recommendations for both the Ministry of Education and the facilities themselves.

"At present, there are 6 500 children living in children homes or educational institutions in our country, which is still a very large number. Although I would like to see them grow up outside institutions, preferably in a family environment, I accept that institutional care has a role to play in the current child care system and I appreciate the work of all those involved in caring for children in institutions. I believe that by systematically visiting and monitoring of these institutions, we are helping to ensure that institutions can create the best possible conditions for children. These are necessary to give as many children as possible the chance to live a full adult life," said Monika Šimůnková, Deputy Ombudsman.

In her opinion, the current legislation does not sufficiently take into account the individual needs of children. The Act on Institutional Education has been in force for 20 years with minor modifications. According to Šimůnková, there is no reasonable concept that would distinguish and work with children's needs. The consequence is that children in institutions sometimes have to adapt to a stricter regime than would be appropriate for them.

Moreover, systematic visits showed that both the directors and the staff of the establishments would welcome a modification of regulations to better reflect the current situation. In fact, unlike informal bringing up in families, in institution the staff can only do what the law explicitly empowers them to do. Sometimes they are on the edge of the law in their decisions, even if they are made for the benefit of the child. A simple example of this would be simple outings. The law on institutional care grants children a number of rights. It allows the authorities to intervene if the child breaches his or her obligations. However, it is no longer possible to do the same if it is in the child's own interests, for example, to protect the child's health and safety. Children over the age of seven have the right to go out on their own. However, the law does not specify how to deal with outings for children who, because of their immaturity or other mental or physical vulnerability, are unable to move safely independently outside the facility. If the home management does not allow such a child to walk independently, it is currently in breach of the law.

"Furthermore, there are no clearly defined criteria for service provision and no legal standards for quality of care. For example, the Ombudsman has been pointing out since 2011 that the law does not contain a definition of so-called educational and therapeutic care. Facilities that provide it are now facing the impossibility of employing medical staff," Šimůnková lists other shortcomings of the current legislation. For example, she recommended that the Ministry of Education define the target group of educational and therapeutic care not through the medical diagnosis of children, but through the individual needs of each specific child.

The recommendations for institutions are directed at two main areas: removing elements of institutionalisation is a crucial step in preparing children for independent life after leaving the institution. "An unintended consequence of having to manage the care of several children in one place is that all activities, from daily routines to meals to leisure time, are often over-organised. However, life in the facility should be tailored to the needs of the children as much as possible. It should therefore not be primarily driven by the operational or organisational needs of the facility," explains Štěpán Jílka, who is responsible for children's facilities at the Ombudsman's Office. In his opinion, children in institutions should not only have the chance to spend their free time as they wish, but above all they should be given the opportunity to learn their duties - from preparing meals or shopping to managing money or preparing for a future profession.

The summary report also includes an analysis of 241 court decisions ordering institutional care obtained during visits to nine facilities. In the vast majority of cases, the courts cited multiple reasons for ordering a child to be institutionalized. The most frequently mentioned were the child's behavioural disorders and problems at school. However, for judgments ordering institutional education in a regular children's home, i.e. not in a facility for children with behavioural problems, the most common reasons were social, such as the family's poor housing or financial situation.

The analysis also showed that in the vast majority of cases (88.4% of the decisions), the courts used less severe measures such as supervision of the child, stay in an educational care centre or in a facility for children in need of immediate assistance before imposing institutional education. Proceedings for institutional care most often lasted between one and three months.

The summary report will now be sent to all institutions of institutional and protective care and other institutions so that their representatives can apply the findings and recommendations in their practice. The Deputy Ombudsman will then invite The Ministry of Education to use her recommendations to work on systemic changes in the care of children at risk.

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