The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion reported recently on policy developments highlighted by the European Platform for Investing in Children (EPIC). On their online platform, EPIC outlined recent developments in the shift from institutional to community-based care for children including information on current legislation, national strategies and relevant regional campaigns. The Bulgarian focus on deinstitutionalisation follows on from the Estonian presidency, who hosted a conference on the topic in October 2017 titled “Dignity + Independent Living” conference.

European Social Network activities

Deinstitutionalisation is a topic that the European Social Network (ESN) advocate for and have promoted through their publications. An example of this is their report titled “Investing in Children’s Services, Improving Outcomes,” which was published in 2016. In this publication ESN provided expert advice and practical examples of children’s community-based services. Policy areas included were prevention, protection, integrated services, ensuring permanence and stability of care, supporting the transition into adulthood and listening to children. This work helps to provide stakeholders with practical examples of deinstitutionalisation and the benefits it can bring.

EU developments

The EU is promoting the use of financial support available through European Structural and Investment Funds to achieve the deinstitutionalisation aims of the Bulgarian presidency. Member states can use the funds to carry out reforms at the national level to shift from institutional to community-based services. An example of this is the EU making €13,000,000 available through a call for proposals launched in February 2018 titled “Quality Alternative Care for Children and De-Institutionalisation”. The aim of this call is to support initiatives that help prevent family and child separation, take children out of harmful institutions, and provide appropriate and quality alternative care for those deprived of parental care. To assist member states in the process of deinstitutionalisation, the European Expert Group on the Transition from Institutional to Community-based care (EEG) has developed a toolkit on the use of European Union funds in the transition from institutional to community-based care.

National level developments 

The EEG also developed common guidelines which aim to help countries in implementing and supporting a sustained transition from institutional care to family-based and community-based alternatives for children. These guidelines are intended to complement the toolkit on accessing EU funds. According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) reports, more than half of EU countries have already put in place deinstitutionalisation strategies. Examples of these include:

  • Lithuania has adopted a Child Welfare Action Plan for 2016-2018 which includes measures to develop various community-based social, educational, cultural and health care services to help children grow up in a family environment.
  • Bulgaria has implemented a national strategy: ‘Vision for the Deinstitutionalisation of Children’.
  • Latvia aims to introduce a gradual transition from institutional care to family care between 2014 and 2020 for children who are left without parental care, and at the same time improve preventive and support measures for families.

Overall, there is a firm commitment to end institutional care at the EU and national level. The Bulgarian presidency has made deinstitutionalisation a key priority and more than half member states have already put in place national strategies to bring about more community-based care. Organisations such as EEG and ESN have been and will continue to support EU, national and regional actors by providing information about deinstitutionalisation best practice and making policy recommendations.