Prague - The Czech Republic is one of the leading countries in the number of children that are growing up in social care homes. However, the new amendment to the civil code should change that.
One clear rule will be set for both - judges as well as social workers - first comes the family, then the social care home.
"It will be clearly determined that a child should be rather brought up by a person than in a social care home. The same should apply to foster care which is the priority as well. It will be clearly described that institution care is the last choice," says Ondřej Frinta from the Law Faculty of the Charles University who has worked on the amendment to the civil code.
The term ´institutional care´ does not include only foster homes but also juvenile detention centers and facilities for children in need.
Only serious reasons accepted
The new civil code stresses out that a child can be taken away from the family home only based on serious reasons and that it should stay in the social care home only for a limited time if necessary.
Will the administration really apply the regulation in real life if it passes the parliament? Will it be binding for them? "The authorities will have to take this as a rule, that means they will have to obey," says Frinta.
The authors of the new civil code agree with the experts that each case has to be handled individually, though.
"In some cases, a high quality care in a social care home may be the best solution for a child for a certain period of time. It is a good thing that the law stresses that it is impossible to solve every difficult situation in a family by putting the child in a social care home," says Věra Bechyňová from association STŘEP that helps families in difficult situations.
According to her, it is necessary that the judges and social workers improve their education alongside with the reforms. "They should be able to empathize with the family psychologically. And also they should not check up on families only formally but also practically."
Number of children in institutions not declining
The Czech Republic has been criticized by international community for its pro-care home policy for years. The number of children that have to grow up in a social care home is however not declining. "Homes for small babies are one hundred percent full. The number of older children in social care homes has even been increasing too," says Bechyňová.
Anna Šabatová , former deputy ombudsman, described her experience with children that were taken away from their families. She personally has looked into more than forty cases.
"In most of those cases, the conclusion was that the intervention in the family life by social workers and judges was inadequate. In most of the cases they could have chosen a different approach."
Šabatová often saw a situation when social workers were crimping the families.
"There were only three cases in which it was without any dispute that the children were rightly taken away from their parents. In all of the other cases, the social workers did not help the families and in some cases were even trying to place the child in an institution that was far away from the parents."
Šabatová does not think that the social workers did that on purpose. The problem is that social workers often do not know how to work with families in difficult situations.
"And because they do not know how to deal with this kind of situation, they use repression as a solution more than anything else. It is the simplest way for them."