Negative demographic tendencies due to emigration and an ageing society has led to Lithuania losing 20 per cent of its citizens in last 20 years. However, the number of children in institutions remains stable – over 4000, with an annual influx of 1000 new babies and children.
With support from the EEA Grants, SOS Children Villages Lithuania is currently implementing a project to improve the situation for children in institutional care. The project is entitled "Sustained Transition from Institutional Care to Family-Based and Community-Based Alternatives". The region of Varena agreed to part of the pilot project. In this region, 42% of children deprived of parental care live in large residential institutions.
SOS Children Villages Lithuania conducted the first comparative analysis in Lithuania on children rights implementation level in different care settings, both family care and institutional care. More than 700 people responded, including 36 children homes and 300 foster families in 26 different region. The researcher in the assessment, Mrs. Dalija Snieškienė reported that "Current child care system, based on institutional care, does not allow education of major social skills and preparation for independent life."
"We wish people to know that children are not happy to grow in big residential facilities because their wishes about stability and safety cannot be fulfilled there– due to wrong public policy priorities there is nobody willing to adopt or foster them. We want people to realise that professional foster care is not about benefiting from children allowances, but it is a dignified choice based on vocation. We call for a practically functioning model where social care, child protection officers and community truly cooperate with each other and re-organize their work and knowledge in the way to help to improve situation of disadvantaged children," explains Virginija Pleckeviciene, who is the National Advocacy Advisor at SOS Children's Villages in Lithuania.
The main objectives of the project are to organise focused consultation events on the need to end institutional care for various groups of society. Furthermore, they wish to develop a module of complex community-based services mechanism and to apply it on local level. Before the end of the project, they aim to provide consultation about deinstitutionalisation for two hundred people. 150 persons will receive new basic and welfare services in disadvantaged regions and fifty individuals will have increased access to social services better suited to their needs.
To support them in their project they have allied themselves with a Norwegian organisation. Oslo Sanitetsforening Brusetkollen AS kindly agreed to contribute with its know-how of provision of community-based social services, Norwegian child care system and benefits of deinstitutionalisation for children and society. They got in touch with this partner through the assistance of SOS Children's Villages Norway.
So far, representatives from the partner contributed significantly in two awareness raising seminars (in Vilnius and Varena) for state and municipal authorities and NGOs in Lithuania in December 2013 . Experts from Brusetkollen introduced to the participants good practice in provision of services and examples of community-based social services in Norway.
Next year, the Norwegian partner will return to Lithuania to participate in further advocacy activities. In the concluding project conference for state and municipal authorities and NGOs BRUSETKOLLEN will present Norwegian children care system, best practices and challenges for foster parents and benefits of deinstitutionalisation for children and society. "The main benefit of having this particular bilateral partnership is that Lithuania is a newcomer in the area of community-based services, and essentially needs experienced assistance related to proving that large residential institutions inevitably violate rights of the child. Investing in children is not a waste of money, but is an investment for a happy childhood," explains Virginija Pleckeviciene
In addition to the Norwegian partner, they are also involving other stakeholders in the project. This is the main lesson learnt halfway through the project, according to Virginija Pleckeviciene: "Smooth transition from institutional care to community-based alternatives is only possible when there is a strong partnership between major stakeholders from all levels, from the community itself and to the state actors." Another lesson learnt has been that it is essential to treat children and families at risk as subjects, but not objects of the transition. The main challenge so far has been to rebut myths about de facto "bad" children from social risk families or institutional care and motivate local child rights specialists to start using alternative, community-based methods of social work." "We are hoping that the implementation of deinstitutionalisation strategy will not be left in dusty ministerial drawers but, in opposite, will settle in minds and hearts of people. Hopefully, this project will be the one inducing kickoff for deinstitutionalization in the whole of Lithuania" concludes Virginija Pleckeviciene
"We are happy and proud to support this project through the EEA Grants NGO Fund," says Dovile Sakaliene, Director of NGO Programme Lithuania. "Persistent long-term advocacy of Lithuanian NGOs and NGO networks gained hope with the support of EEA Grants to reach a break-through point. We hope that projects like that of SOS Children Villages and Brusetkollen shall contribute to ending institutional care in Lithuania. Every child, healthy or disabled, has a right to a family – and fulfillment of their fundamental need for individual emotional relationship, loving and caring relationship in a family environment."