We, representatives of civil society organisations working in the field of insuring children's rights appeal to international organisations, donors, and funding agencies providing assistance to Ukraine’s reconstruction and recovery to prevent the allocation of funds for the reconstruction of institutional care facilities intended for the round-the-clock care of children.
We are concerned about certain sections of the Report “Ukraine Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment: February 2022 – February 2023 (RDNA2) prepared jointly by the World Bank Group, the Government of Ukraine, the European Union services, and the United Nations in coordination with humanitarian and development partners, academia, civil society organisations, and the private sector. The document was published on the World Bank, EU, UN and other websites at the end of March this year.
According to the assessment, damage in the social protection area mostly consists of destroyed or partially destroyed infrastructure, such as residential care units, sanatoriums, or social service delivery centers. As of December 2022, the reconstruction needs for the residential institutions (for the elderly, persons with disabilities, and children) are estimated at 117.29 million euros. The estimated reconstruction needs for sanatoriums and children’s camps amount to 134.49 million euros. The report highlights that 1.01 million euros will be allocated to address the reconstruction needs in residential institutions, and 103.67 million euros for sanatorium and children’s camps (pages 54, 57).
There is an established international consensus that institutionalisation of children is a harmful practice that must end. Over 80 years of international research has demonstrated that children who grow up in institutions are more likely to have cognitive and physical delays, problems with the law, and are at serious risk of mental health problems. It is noteworthy that care leavers are more likely to come in conflict with the law, and less than 10% of them are able to integrate into society after leaving the institution.
Moreover, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and with the outbreak of war in Ukraine, more than 80% of children from residential institutions returned home. This once again proves that the existence of residential institutions is unnecessary. According to a research conducted in 2015, nearly 53% of the institutions have been built for children with disabilities. The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Guidelines on Deinstitutionalization (DI), including in Emergencies states that institutionalisation is a discriminatory practice, contradicts fundamental rights and can never be considered as a form of protection of children with disabilities. States parties should abolish all forms of institutionalisation, end new placements in institutions, and refrain from investing in institutions. The Guidelines also mention that DI envisages the development of inclusive community support services, systems and networks. During emergencies, states parties should continue and accelerate efforts to close institutions. Targeted efforts are needed to ensure inclusion, humanitarian relief and recovery measures and full access to support. Accelerated DI should be included in recovery efforts and in national DI strategies, and implemented immediately in emergencies.
The EU has also acknowledged the harm of institutionalisation, by including measures on the transition from institutional to family and community-based care in its funding regulations and most relevant policy instruments. The European Commission’s Opinion on Ukraine’s application for membership of the European Union highlighted that the high rate of children in institutions is a “serious concern and needs to be tackled as a matter of urgency”. Furthermore, the EC President Ursula von der Leyen, in a recent statement said that “we want these children to grow up in a loving environment that gives them confidence and strength” “not in institutions…but in family-based care” and announced that the EU will allocate 10 million euros to support “the design of a modern child care strategy”. As the EU is one of the parties behind the RDNA2 report, it should be consistent in its approach towards institutionalisation and stand to its own commitments by making sure that any funding directed to Ukraine is supporting family and community-based care.
Even before the war, Ukraine had one of the highest rates of child institutionalisation in the world. More than 90% of children in the country's residential institutions had at least one parent, and only 8% were orphans and children deprived of parental care. This trend suggests that the Ukrainian Government should focus its efforts primarily on building infrastructure to support families with children, creating alternative forms of family care and education, and making services available in the place of residence of families with children. Existing institutional facilities should be transformed into centers for the provision of services for families with children. This, in turn, will help to keep families together, preventing children from being placed in institutions, and will also be an important support for Ukrainian families and children returning home. We are convinced that an effective system should be created in Ukraine to ensure that all children, including children with disabilities, are cared for and brought up in a family or a family-like environment.
In view of the above, we consider the intentions to allocate funding for the reconstruction of residential institutions for children to be contrary to international norms, principles and practice.
Instead, we would like to ask you to focus your approach on allocating funds for the Government of Ukraine on the need to create and develop services and provide support for families with children in communities, support non-governmental social service providers, invest in the creation of foster and adoptive families, daycare centers, etc., and develop a system to prevent children from being placed in residential institutions. Through supporting children to live well in families and access services in the community, this approach will help to avoid the risk of further institutionalization of children and help all children at risk of family separation to grow up in a loving, supportive family environment, as well as to support children and families returning home.