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Devin Silver

Choosing Children’s Rights:


Romania’s Reform of Child Welfare for Children in Care

The fall of Ceauçescu in 1989 opened the door to the world regarding the conditions of
children in care in Romania. There has been a great struggle within Romania regarding
the change in the Child Welfare system and the cultural challenges that were created
around the Ceauçescu welfare system. According to the Romanian government, the
greatest change has been the focus on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which
Romania ratified in 1990 shortly after the fall of Communism.

In 1989, according to the government figures, there were over 100,000 children in the
Romanian institutional care system. In 2006 there were just over 27,000 in institutional
care and nearly 50,000 in substitute family care. The infant mortality rate was nearly 27
in 1,000 in 1989; by 2005 it had fallen to 16. The types of services offered to children
have also changed; in 2000 there were no shelters provided by the government for street
children, but by 2005 there were 15. Family type placement units increased nearly seven
times; from 98 to 639. Considerable changes have occurred for children in the Child
Welfare system regarding their rights, the services they are provided, and their overall
health. (NAPCR, 2006)

Romania attempted to completely overhaul the Child Welfare system up to 2002, in order
to correct the system set up by Ceauçescu, but failed to meet the demands that the
European Union had set forth, thus requiring Romania to initiate a different approach to
modernize the system. (European Parliament, 2006) While restructuring the Child
Welfare Department and creating new laws, the government focused on the rights of the
child and parents, which were adapted from the UN Convention on the Rights of the
Child. There are five main goals that were looked at: 1) the right to be raised by a parent,
2) the right to maintain contact with family, 3) the right to be heard, 4) the right of free
expression and to be informed, and 5) the right of respect of person and individuality.
(NAPCR, 2006)

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First, the right to be raised by a parent was integrated into the system by taking measures
and making laws that encourage keeping a child with his/her family as often as possible.
In order to do this Social Services have now been trained to provide services to families
and parents that will improve their life standards or parenting skills. However, when
keeping a child with his/her family is not in the best interest of the child’s development
and rights, a substitute family is arranged either within the extended family or a family
approved by the Social Services. The second right that was integrated into the Child
Welfare policies is the right to maintain contact with family. Previous to 2000, children
were discouraged from keeping contact with their family once they were placed into
institutionalized care. Now, children in institutionalized and substitute family care are
encouraged to visit their family, and social workers work with children and families in
order to ensure that there is appropriate and timely interaction. Prior to 2000, children’s
voices were not heard at all in the process of adoption or separation from their families.
Now, in accordance with the right to be heard, it is a law that children 10 and above are
involved and heard by a judge. Related to the new concept of children being looked after
by substitute families instead of the State, there is a new policy of informing children and
allowing them to express their opinions on changing families, adoption, and surgery.
(NAPCR, 2006)

Prior to 2000, children in care were not looked upon as humans neither by the State nor
those who lived outside of the institutions. As a result, children were not given personal
clothing or space, but had to share all clothes and areas. In an effort to meet the right to
respect for persons and individuals, Romania has made it into law that children in
institutional care are provided their own locker with a lock, and that they are provided
their own sufficient living space. (NAPCR, 2006) This also includes the ban of corporal
punishment in schools, institutional care, and families (including substitute families).
There are also many other “lesser” rights that the Child Welfare program included in the
new laws of 1 January 2005. Of these laws, one is of particular interest to children in
care as it deals with the right to have a cultural/ethnic identity. Many children in care are
from minority groups in Romania, and as a result, they have not been treated with respect

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regarding their ethnic or cultural background. Thus, implementing this right could
improve the quality of life of minority children.

As part of the rights-based approach to changing the child welfare of Romania, the
government has begun providing better services and more centers that meet the needs of
the children in care. This process has also included the closing of protection institutions
that had become ineffective, the restructuring of old institutional care centers into
apartment style care centers, and the creation of new services that directly meet the rights
and needs of the children. These services include shelters for street children, prenatal
care, mother and baby centers, counseling and family planning, daycare centers, maternal
assistants, re-integration centers (to biological families), family type placements,
treatment centers for abused children, disabled children centers, support centers for
children leaving care after 18, and emergency services for children who have behavior
disorders. Most of these services were either nonexistent before 2000 or have increased 3
to 10 fold. (NAPCR, 2006; USAID, 2006)

Despite the advances that Romania has made in addressing children’s issues by using the
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) as their guide, the government still has
many measures to take in order to ensure that children in the care of the state are being
adequately protected. UNICEF has addressed the increased vulnerability of the
protection and rights of children in residential institutions in recent press releases on the
state of Romania’s Child Welfare system. (UNICEF, May 2005) Additionally, the
children who are in care of the state are not adequately tracked, allowing them to
disappear or not exist at the convenience of the government. Roma and disabled children
are especially vulnerable while in state care as well as when living outside state care due
to strong cultural prejudices within Romanian culture; therefore, the government needs to
make better efforts to address the prejudices and protocols for minority children in state
care (UNICEF, 2007; Jurnalul, 2006). Many children are still disappearing in Romania
due to illegal adoption practices, human trafficking and other illegal activities. Although
Romania has implemented the Child Monitoring and Tracking Information System, it has
not been given adequate funding nor have those implementing it been given adequate

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training, especially in remote places where minorities such as Roma and ethnic Germans
are especially vulnerable. (UNICEF, May 2007). Finally, children with HIV/AIDS are
not given regular access to an education and are frequently discouraged from attending
public school. (Human Rights Watch, 2006)

Due to the support that Romania has from the EU and many NGOs, they should be able
to continue on the path to reform and appropriately improve their child welfare services.
The challenges are demanding, yet feasible as shown in the considerable strides made
over the past years. However, the government must not lose focus due to the current
economic crisis and remember that it must continue to improve its safeguards and
services, as the crisis increases the potential dangers for the children as well as the
number of children that may come under their care.

References:

A Refined Auschwitz: Children with Disabilities in Special Institutions in Romania,


Adriana Oprea Popescu, Jurnalul, June 7, 2006. (http://www.jurnalul.ro/cautare/a-
refined-auschwitz.html)

Child Welfare in Romania: The Story of a Reform Process, National Authority for the
Protection of Child’s Rights (NAPCR), Bucharest, September 2006.

Children in Residential Institutions Desperately Vulnerable to Abuse, News Notes,


UNICEF, New York, May 31, 2005. Uploaded: October 29, 2009
(http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/media_27185.html)

Children’s Rights for Roma Children, News Notes, UNICEF, New York, May 16, 2007.
Uploaded: October 29, 2009 (http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/media_39677.html)

Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on Romania's


Periodic Report, UNICEF, New York, June 2009 (http://www.unicef.org/romania/CRC-
C-ROM-CO-4.pdf)

Country Profile, Library of Congress, Federal Research Division, Washington, DC,


December 2006. Uploaded: October 27, 2009
(http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/profiles/Romania.pdf)

Human Rights Watch Volume 18 No. 6(D), Human Rights Watch, New York, 2006.

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USAID and Child Welfare Reform in Romania, USAID, Washington, DC, July 2006.
(http://www.usaid.gov/locations/europe_eurasia/dem_gov/docs/final_romania_legacy_re
port_090506.pdf)

UNICEF Country Statistics, UNICEF, New York, 2008


(http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/romania_statistics.html)

Written Declaration Pursuant to Rule 116 of the Rules of Procedure on International


Adoption in Romania, European Parliament, Brussels, 2006.