No comprehensive national strategy for deinstitutionalisation of children currently exists. Some institutions have been closed but not within the framework of a national plan of action. The Hungarian Government has introduced a new measure to end the placement of children under 12 into institutions and direct them into foster care which is due to come into force from 1 January 2014. However, it is unclear how the measure will be implemented since there is no accompanying investment in services to prevent family separation or allow reunification and there is a shortage of suitable foster carers, particularly for children under three, those with chronic illness or disability, teenagers, and children with behavioural problems.
Local social and child welfare services that could support families, foster carers and children are severely under-resourced. Local authorities tend to refer clients to institutional care – under the financial authority of national Government – rather than invest in community-based services. This is due to a lack of resources but it also reflects broad public opinion which favours placing children, particularly Roma children and those with disabilities and mental health problems, away from the community.
Effective system reform requires a comprehensive framework of planning, monitoring and evaluation. Professionals working in the social, health and education sectors need to be better trained and better paid. For example, although foster care is widespread – 60.4% of children in alternative care were living in foster families in 2011 – only 5.8% of foster carers are formally employed and therefore professionally recruited, trained and supported to provide a high standard of care for children. Furthermore, the support and services provided to foster families is very limited, supervision inadequate, and there is no clear accountability even in cases of severe breakdown or suspected abuse and neglect.
A comprehensive strategy for deinstitutionalisation of children would also require a widespread public awareness campaign.
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