Children and families

“A fostering agency’s commitment to supporting foster carers is the counterpart to the personal and human commitment children require from their foster families.” (Vincent Ramon)

On 26 October, ESN was in Zagreb at the conference on “Models of foster care” organised by the Forum for Quality Foster Care of Children, UNICEF and the Croatian Ministry of Health and Welfare. The conference follows the adoption of the new Foster Care Act in Croatia in July 2011, which introduces a number of changes to foster care practice. The event explored the strengths and weaknesses of various foster care models in Europe – speakers underlined the importance of maintaining a connection with a child’s biological family for their psychological and social development.

The Secretary of State from the Ministry of Social Welfare, Ante ZvonimirGolen, underlined the need to establish a widespread network of foster carers across the country. The new Foster Care Act establishes foster care as one of the pillars of the social welfare system (the other two being disability and social exclusion). He also emphasised that the aim of the government is to ensure that by 2013 no child under the age of 3 is institutionalised.

MajaLaklija, from the Department of Social Work, presented her research on "Models of foster care in Europe" and described the results of a survey of 12 models of foster care, which revealed the necessity of providing professional support to foster parents and encouraging cooperation among different sectors.

Two ESN members contributed to the conference. Vincent Ramon from the national observatory on child protection (ONED) in France challenged the family-centred approach, arguing that child protection is evolving from merely a parent substitution to additional parenting or co-parenting role. Alexis Jay, chief social work advisor to the Scottish government highlighted that the quality of support for foster carers with children with complex needs have to be improved. “For some foster carers in Scotland good support is preferable to higher fees”, she says. She also stressed that within the Scottish system “strong emphasis is placed on consulting the child and listening to their views”.

Representatives from the Croatian Ministry talked about the new law on Foster Care, which recognises professionalization of foster carers for the first time. However, some challenges still remain:

  1. There is a need to introduce quality standards for foster care placements and procedures
  2. There is a need to discuss how to involve children in the decision-making process
  3. There is a need to develop individual plans for each fostered child and the foster carer
  4. There needs to be systematic monitoring of the implementation of the Foster care Act either at local or county level
  5. Social services needs to create conditions for a return to the biological family if possible
  6. There is a problem with judicial time delay from the time the decision is taken to the implementation of measures.