Grow Your Know – September 2016
Romania: Government Reforms in Child Welfare
By Renee Miller
This month’s article helps the reader understand the evolution of child welfare in Romania. It has been a difficult road over the past 25 years, but progress has and continues to be made. Of course, it can be difficult to see progress when looking at a snapshot in time, but it becomes very pronounced when you go back in time to see where things started!
In the mid-1980s, the western world was first exposed to the orphan crisis in Romania after details of orphan living conditions were leaked. Babies were in left crying in cribs in a sterile environment with little to no adult contact. Orphanages were bursting beyond capacity with children. Then, finally, with the fall of the Communist regime, everything was about to change, albeit, not as fast as many people would have liked. This article will review the social reforms in Romania, as defined by collaborative research efforts at Texas Christian University and Bucharest University (located in Romania).
There are five recognized reform periods in Romania’s child welfare history. The pre-reform period (pre-1990), child welfare reform period I (1990-1991), child welfare reform period II (1992-1996) and child welfare reform period III (1997-2000). Furthermore, these periods were followed by the de-institutionalization period (2001-2004) and the alternative to institutionalization care system period (2005-present).
In pre-reform period, and under the Communist leader, Ceausescu, families were encouraged to send their children to orphanages or other institutional care settings for a chance at a better education and adequate care. There were no other social programs or funding available for families to care for their own children if they had financial hardships so this was the only alternative many families believed they had. 100,000 children were social orphans and were given to orphanages early in their lives. There was only room for 17,000 children, which led to extreme overcrowding, causing such deplorable conditions.
After the fall of Communism, and the world learned about institutional orphan care in Romania, child welfare reform period I began. This period was characterized by non-governmental organization aid and short-term fixes instead of long-term solutions. Institutionalization declined during this period as there was an influx of foreign families adopting children and a brief stop to the abandonment of children. It wasn’t long though, when a moratorium was put on foreign adoptions due to children’s rights not being protected, and an unfortunate black market surfacing in “baby-trading.”
A year later is considered the child welfare reform period II. Efforts were contrary. On one hand, some important child welfare reforms were enacted to allow ethical foreign adoptions again. (Foreign adoptions during this period almost completely replaced national adoptions.) On the other hand, there were still no good alternatives to institutionalization for abandoned children.
In child welfare reform period III, real policy reform happened. Legislation was adopted to create alternatives to institutionalization and better regulate the adoption process. Support for families were being explored such as maternity care, day care centers and centers for children with disabilities.
In the de-institutionalization period, reform efforts focused on moving orphans from institutions to reunifying biological families, or placing children in family-like care settings such as group homes, foster homes kinship care, and domestic adoptions. It was at the beginning of this period when foreign adoptions were stopped citing widespread corruption in adoption practices, and a desire for the country to solve their child welfare problems on their own.
The current state of child welfare reform is the alternative to institutionalization care system. Since 2005, the Romanian government has been working to move its child welfare system to mirror western practice standards, policy, and legislation. Child’s rights are the primary focus of the current reform effort.
Although these government reforms have drastically improved orphan care in Romania, sustaining these efforts are dependent on government leadership. Fortunately, over the past few years, the government has recognized the value of partnering with nongovernmental agencies to be a part of the solution.
Global Hope is one of those organizations that is part of the long-term solution in raising a generation of kids, not in an institution, but in a home where there is stability, security and unconditional love.
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