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Press Centre (9/2014)

A Brighter Future for All: For every child to grow up in a caring, supportive family

UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States Marie-Pierre Poirier
Young children no longer need to bear the brunt of outdated childcare
As parents, relatives and guardians, we all know how rewarding a young child’s smile is, as they learn to share and interact with others. 
Research now conclusively shows early childhood development, 0-3 years, is crucial for children to reach their full potential.  Yet, in spite of advances in scientific knowledge a devastating number of young children continue to spend their most formative years in unsuitable environments.
Most countries in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia still rely too much on the policy and practice of placing children in institutions. Alarmingly, the economic growth did not lessen the number of children in state-run homes. Of the 1.4 million children in 26 countries (2011 data) without parental care, about half grow up in large scale institutions. As estimated 31,000 placed in institutions are under the age of three (2012 data) which risks undermining their health, development and future life chances. Support to families still trails behind measures that have their roots in an old myth: that the ‘State’ can (and even should) be a substitute for vulnerable families. We are all paying the price for this outdated practice.
As policy makers and advocates we are responsible for facilitating environments that enable children to grow up in caring and supportive families. We know that children are separated from families for several reasons – a mother or father is usually in a stressful situation and unable to cope, often because of poverty; a child’s disability or a parent’s social status. By focusing on vulnerable families, understanding and preventing early separation and finding sustainable alternatives in line with children’s best interests we can help foster a change in approach.
Children in institutional care are more likely to suffer from attachment disorders, developmental delay and failure in brain development.  For every three months spent within an institution the child’s development is delayed by one month. 
International and European standards related to the alternative care of children justify priority being given to children in budget allocation and services development. Traditionally the use of institutional care provided a one size fits-all child care option. This short-term view has brought long-term costs for society as a whole.
Governments must act now to promote legislative reforms and policies that prevent the separation of children from their families in the first place, limiting separation to a last resort measure, and setting strict conditions for placing children into institutions with the aim of ending placement of children below three years of age in such care. They should also implement a comprehensive package of health, educational and social measures (including social transfers, training of medical and social professionals) to prevent the abandonment of children in hospitals and maternity wards. Existing resources should be reallocated to develop high quality local services such as day care for children with disabilities and home visiting; and family-based care options such as foster care for children who need alternative families.
The region is facing great challenges but change is underway. A number of countries are now implementing such supportive policies aimed at families. A 2012 regional conference in Bulgaria, ‘Ending the placement of children under three in institutions: Support caring and supportive families for all young children’, successfully brought together governments, institutions and individuals to share best practice and progress.

Twenty governments made a public statement regarding their current and future efforts not to place in institutions children below three years who are deprived of parental care; and to increase family support so that parents are better able to care for their children.

Two years later, a special event will be held on 10 September to discuss the progress of the Call to Action co-hosted H.E. Ambassador Mr. Stephan Tafrov, Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the UN and Vice-President of UNICEF Executive Board and UNICEF Executive Director Tony Lake.
A number of countries have shown promising practices. Bulgaria has been a key player in supporting the call to action. Croatia has developed a more inclusive social policy. Serbia now has services at community level for children with disabilities. Kazakhstan has introduced social workers in primary health care system while Turkey has boosted foster care system. We are now seeing the impact – a 10 per cent reduction of baby abandonment in the region since 2012.
Let us on now build on this momentum and accelerate change. The current economic situation makes prioritization more important than ever. We must be long-term and strategic in our vision, moving from reactive to proactive measures and build a continuum of care that is inclusive for all. Our common aim should now be to turn such promising experiences in realizing the right of children to grow up in caring and supportive families into the norm for all children. Only then will all children realize their full potential, only then will the region grow for and with children. 
UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States Marie-Pierre Poirier.
UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org