Ministerial Conference “Ending the placement of children under the age of three in institutions: Support nurturing families for all young children” Hilton Sofia Hotel, Sofia, Bulgaria 21-22 November, 2012 Speech of Mr. Kastriot Sulka, Deputy Minister of Labor Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities in Albania. Albania, with a population of 2,831,7411million inhabitants, has one of the youngest populations in Europe, while the number of children aged 0-19 years is about 1,000,000. Albania has had and continues to be engaged with regard to the improvement of standards for the protection and respect of basic human rights. Phenomena like transition, change of system and of the family model from a large one to a small one have led to a weak social traditional and child care links. When social intervention programs are discussed in Albania, special and multi-dimensional vulnerability of children is rarely addressed. This leads to children being exposed to different forms of exploitation, violence and abuse. This challenges directly the capacity of the state to ensure the right of children for protection, thus leading to negative long-term consequences for the children’s lives and communities. Child protection is part of social protection. More specifically, it has to do with prevention and response to “all forms of physical or mental violence, abuse or ill-treatment, abandonment or neglect or exploitation, including sexual abuse of children”, as provided for by article 19 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. Currently, residential care is given to 0-16 year-old children, 265 children in public residential centers and 400 in non-public residential centers. The number of children aged 0-3 years in public institutions is 99, whereas in non-public institutions is 55. The Albanian Government has approved the Foster Care Strategy for children in need in 2008, which constitutes an important document and promotes new alternative home-based services for the children in need. Foster care service is based in the decentralization of services, deinstitutionalization of children and establishing of community services, where a child is being supported and assisted in a family environment and his/her basic rights that derive from the UNCRC are guaranteed at the highest level. It is estimated that alternative care is less expensive than residential care (the cost of one child under 3 years old in the institutions is 73,000 Leke, about 700 usd)2 thus constituting a strong argument for promoting such services. 1 2 INSTAT, Population and housing, census in Albania, preliminary results, 2011. Prepare an assessment on the costing of protection services in Albania, UNICEF &MoLSAEO 2011. With the approval of amendments to the basic Law on Social Protection (in April, 2012) a special budget for temporary foster care in Albania was allocated. There are 80 children in need that are supported by this program (more specifically: 90 usd/month fee for foster family; 100 usd/month fee for foster family that care for Children with Disabilities; 100 usd/year for clothing for the child; 100 usd/year indirect expenses for the child; 50 usd/year expenses for the school; are subsidized from the state budget); they live in temporary foster families and are not institutionalized. Standards of temporary foster care have been approved by the Albanian government (and observed / inspected by state social services with the help of NGOs) In this context, the Reform of the Social Protection Program, of which the Social Services Reform is assisted by UNICEF – is preceded by some important initiatives that are directly related to the prevention of placement of children in residential care institutions. Thus, this program prevents the institutionalization of children. The reform has two main pillars, and priority is given to the decentralization of social services as a basic process of the social services reform. In this decentralized framework, local government units have been assigned with new roles and functions in the administration of social care institutions, in the identification of needs and in the provision of social community services within the territory of their jurisdiction. The introduction of new services that could be offered by non-government organizations, in addition to public services, is another important element of the reform. The aim of these services is to support families to enable children to grow up in a family environment, with warmness, love, good understanding and protection. This reform will reflect an institutionalized cooperation between all engaged actors engaged in providing a comprehensive model of alternative care in Albania. The Albanian government is engaged to reduce to 0 the number of institutionalized children aged 0 – 3 years within the next three years. The government intends to transform existing institutions into community-based care services, while only addressing emergency cases in residential care facilities.