Deinstitutionalisation should remain a priority for EU funding

EEG’s analysis of Recovery Plans and recommendations for 2022 European Semester

The European Semester represents an important process to strengthen not only economic and fiscal reforms but also social inclusive policies among the European Union (EU) Member States. While the 2021 European Semester mechanisms had been halted to allow a better response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2022 European Semester goes back to its original cycle with the adoption of country reports and country-specific recommendations by the European Commission. It will, however, still pay particular attention to the National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRRPs). In order to inform the European Semester outputs, the European Expert Group on the Transition from Institutional to Community-Based Care (EEG) has consulted its members and gathered information on the process of deinstitutionalisation (DI) and on the development of community-based care. The EEG has been focusing on 12 Member States being Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.

The EEG has submitted its findings to support the European Commission in promoting inclusive NRRPs and in the writing of country-specific recommendations which will be published in May 2022. Indeed, through this contribution the EEG aims to support the implementation of the standards in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the UN guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, and the European Fundamental Rights Charter.

The EEG country fact-sheets delineate the existing situation of the DI process – including improvements and ongoing problems – and point out the main weaknesses as well as strengths of the NRRPs.

Concerning the situation of children within the Member States we have analysed, the EEG has pointed out that the number of children in institutional care has not undergone considerable changes in last 2 years (only Spain and Bulgaria have seen decreases). In most of the cases, children in residential care were in institutions: while in some states almost the totality of children in alternative care remain in already existing institutions, the EEG expressed concern about the inclusion of the construction of new institutions in some NRPPs (such as Belgium’s). Moreover, the EEG has identified poverty and lack of economic support as being among the main reasons for the institutionalisation of children; other reasons include lack of community-based services able to meet the needs of persons with disabilities, marginalisation, neglect, abuse, a lack of family support services in the community or migration. In the case of asylum-seeking children, they might end up staying in the institutional care system until they reach the age of maturity or, as in the case of Hungary, they might end up being confined in transit zone areas. In its analysis, the EEG has also highlighted a lack of data collection and disaggregated data which prevent the implementation of efficient policies and reforms towards deinstitutionalisation. The transition process from institutional to community-based care is further hindered by the absence of a defined strategy on a regional or community level: this is particularly true for those countries which have autonomous administration within the same country, like Spain, Belgium and Italy.

In the examined countries, the EEG has also analysed the situation and promotion of independent living for persons with disabilities. In its findings, the EEG remarked both a worsening and an improvement of the general trends depending on the Member State: some Member States (like France, Croatia and Portugal) have seen the number of people in institutions increasing during the last year due to the lack of community-based and person-centered services. This has also been enhanced by the incorrect use of EU funding going towards the deinstitutionalisation process and by the lack of available social housing. Some positive changes have also been noted on a political and legal level: for example, Greece worked to promote a National Deinstitutionalisation Strategy and Hungary has made changes to the constitution to support community-based services. Nevertheless, such changes have been weak in their implementation due to the lack of data and an incorrect approach towards the concept of deinstitutionalisation. In its review of Member States, the EEG has also been focusing on the Mental Health services and on persons with mental health issues in institutions. Overall, the EEG has outlined an increase in the number of people with mental health needs within institutions despite the launch – in few countries – of political reforms aiming to promote community-based mental health centres. Furthermore, when considering the situation of persons with disabilities, the EEG has defined the lack of clear and quantifiable targets, lack of economic support, and the lack of data availability as further elements that contribute to institutionalisation.

Finally, in the analysis of the Countries’ Recovery and Resilience Plans, the EEG has identified common recommendations for the considered Member States:

  • The transition from institutions to community-based care needs to follow UNCRPD and UNCRC principles; moreover, NRRPs need to exclude funding to new or pre-existing institutions and need to fix clear targets in the transition process.
  • To prevent child separation from their families, it is important that NRRPs include measures and programmes to prevent risk of poverty; inclusive education reforms are also very important to stop the institutionalisation of children with disabilities. Moreover, NRRPs should focus on increasing foster care provision and develop a wide range of support options in the community.
  • NRRPs should promote further research into the monitoring and collection of data. This should be applied specifically in the data concerning children (including children deprived of parental care), children with disabilities, people with mental health needs and persons with disabilities.
  • There should be a greater focus on social housing and on facilitating the process of access to available social housing.
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