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Three little words that make a big difference

Children belong in families,
not orphanages
Lumos voices

Three little words that make a big difference

It's actually five little words, but I had to draw your attention to a hugely important clause which could - if left unamended - result in EU funds being used to prop up harmful institutions that separate children from their families and deny other vulnerable people the right to live independently.

The vital words in question can be found in a somewhat unremarkable context: the EU's Draft Structural Funds Regulations. This sets out the conditions that countries must meet if they wish to use EU money to fund state-operated buildings - including institutions, which fail children on many counts.

The Regulations stipulate that one of the most important criteria to be met is that the funding proposal 'depending on the identified needs, includes measures for the shift from institutional to community care.'

Why is this a problem?

Because this focus on 'needs', rather than 'rights', carries devastating implications for children and vulnerable adults. Needs are subjective. They can vary according to individual interpretation. They can face competition from other, conflicting needs. They can change when a government - or even a local official - is replaced.

If funding decisions are based on 'needs', as these four words stipulate, then any government, local authority or individual official who isn't 100% committed to protecting the rights of their most vulnerable citizens will seize on this as a green light to build more institutions or to fund existing ones. This would also put both the EU and its Member States in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). What this means in practice is that a child born into poverty, or with a minor disability such as a speech disorder, or with a physical disability that costs money to treat - all of these children and others risk being separated from their families. Once in an institution, decades of research shows that they are often neglected and forgotten by a system that is supposed to help them.

Children in institutions are more likely to fail educationally and teenagers have poor work prospects,which affects their ability to become independent and to contribute to society as adults. One study showed that young people raised in institutions are 10 times more likely to be involved in prostitution, 40 times more likely to have a criminal record and 500 times more likely to commit suicide than their peers.

Conditions in institutions are frequently abysmal and those who live there have little chance to achieve any sort of quality of life. The lack of appropriate care for residents with medical conditions can be fatal.

Instead of being institutionalised, the vast majority of children and vulnerable adults could enjoy life within their families supported by accessible community-based services.

Lumos has joined with human rights groups to call on all 736 MEPs to change the wording in order to ensure that everyone is treated according to their rights, not simply their needs. Rights are objective and guaranteed by Conventions. They are not dependent on the whim of a government official.

The vote whether or not to pass the Draft takes place on 18th November.

The good news is that over the past few years the EC has been working to improve things. It is truly commendable that it has attempted to address this issue through the Structural Funds Regulations. But the current wording is an unintended snake amongst all the ladders: it needs to be changed as a matter of urgency.

Read the full memorandum here.