Press Statement by the Auditor General and the Ombudsman on the Situation in Out-of-Family Care and the Need for Immediate Change
The State Audit Office and the Ombudsman are independent institutions with different mandates and research methods. However, the two institutions have come to similar conclusions having carried out two independent studies on the efficiency of the out-of-family care system. Apart from the shortcomings stated by the Ombudsman in the out-of-family care system, the State Audit Office also concludes after the audit made that the officials with key responsibility of ensuring that children left without parental care do not become “second-class people” but can realize their personal potential like the children born and grown up in a family do not always fulfil their official duties in good faith and allow situations where the law is infringed.
The conclusions of both institutions prove that hiding inaction and neglect is impossible, as the responsible ones can be identified. The system is often blamed, but the system consists of specific people, and specific officials make the decisions. The system is not something abstract, but it is the consequence of the actions or inaction of the responsible officials.
The audit report of the State Audit Office stated the following facts about the current situation in the out-of-family care system, which coincide with the findings of the Ombudsman:
- Social work with a family being at risk of inadequate childcare is delayed, preventive action is lacking;
- Social work is inefficient because there are no experts and required services;
- As a result, the child is separated from his or her family, and the action not in line with the interests of the child continues. There is still the practice of providing care to children left without parental care in the child care institution primarily without carrying out activities to find a potential guardian or a foster family;
- If a guardian is sought at all, such guardian is sought only among the closest relatives of the child (grandparents or siblings of the parents), rarely among more distant relatives, but in 50% of cases there is no information on the file that a potential guardian has been addressed;
- There is still no register of guardians where information on people who have obtained the status of the guardian but who have not yet welcomed a child into the family would be accumulated;
- The number of foster families is still insufficient;
- Local governments still choose to place children in the child care institution in the administrative territory of another local government even in a great distance of the residence and relatives of the child including by separating the children of one family and placing them in different child care institutions. Young children up to two years of age or disabled children are placed in a state child care institution because those children are provided with child care institution services by the government, while the other children receive that service in municipal child care institution or a child care institution with which the local government has signed an agreement.
- The supervision of guardians, foster families, and child care institutions by the Orphan’s courts is formal as it mainly covers only the examination of living conditions such as whether the place of residence is clean; the child has a bed, a closet, or food, etc. The child’s opinion and other issues relevant to the full care and development of the child have not always clarified: whether and how the child’s rights to health care, education, physical and emotional development, leisure time, property interests, as well as the right of communication with parents and other relatives are respected;
- Social rehabilitation plans at child care institutions are formal;
- Child care institutions, guardians, and foster parents are placing children in boarding schools where children are also living even in the administrative territory of another local government;
- The government-established out-of-family care is not adequately supervised.
The above clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding of the situation and legal nihilism, which can and will lead to irreversible, even severe consequences for the children left without parental care. Moreover, awareness raising alone cannot bring about positive change because a reform of the system protecting the children’s rights is needed.
The State Audit Office and the Ombudsman unanimously believe that the existing system of protecting the children’s rights and the system of out-of-family care should be reformed. The current model of subordination of Orphan’s courts to local governments has not proved its efficiency in protecting children’s rights. At the same time, the inefficient supervision of the Orphan’s courts by the State Inspectorate for Protection of Children’s Rights and inefficient supervision of social service providers by the Ministry of Welfare can also be clearly seen.
We believe that the state must make decisive decisions and take crucial steps in reforming the system of protection of children’s rights, and this reform may not be suspended any longer. It is unacceptable that children’s fates continue to be distorted. Therefore, we call on the government to launch a reform of the system for the protection of children’s rights!
Auditor General Elita Krūmiņa Ombudsman Juris Jansons