Life Sentence: Romani Children in Institutional Care
Romani children are overrepresented in institutional care compared to their proportion of the population as a whole in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Romania and Slovakia. All six countries have adopted specific laws which govern child protection matters, with the best interests of the child as the prevailing legal principle. Detailed descriptions of child endangerment and clear methodological guidelines for its assessment are lacking in all countries, which provides significant opportunity for the mis-application or subjective interpretation of relevant provisions by child protection and social workers. Many factors contribute to the overrepresentation of Romani children in institutional care, including discrimination, poverty and material conditions (such as unemployment, indebtedness and inadequate housing), school absenteeism, single parenthood and unwanted pregnancies and migration. Child abuse was considered a very small factor in the placement of Romani children in State care. Preventative measures are often inadequate, there are an insufficient number of skilled social workers and an absence of community level prevention services in isolated Romani neighbourhoods due to insufficient funding. Romani children experience physical abuse, ill-treatment and ethnic discrimination in and out of the homes. Most homes do not offer programmes to support the development of Roma ethnic identity. Given that a disproportionate number of Romani children are in institutional care, that they are unlikely to return to their biological families, and that many are passed up for adoption, a great proportion of Romani children spend their whole childhood in an institutional setting. Romani children are disadvantaged on multiple grounds when it comes to child protection placement, in-care treatment and leaving, including on the basis of their ethnicity, poverty, disability, and institutionalised child status. The existing system creates a cycle from which it is hard if not impossible to escape.