Caucasus: Aug/Sep '11 Part III

Parliamentary committee takes fresh look at new fostering system.

Caucasus: Aug/Sep '11 Part III

Parliamentary committee takes fresh look at new fostering system.

An IWPR article highlighting concerns about childcare reforms in Georgia has prompted a parliamentary committee to start monitoring outcomes and insisting on stricter standards for foster-parents.

The story, Georgian Childcare Reform Criticised, described how the state is closing residential children’s homes and placing children either with foster families or in smaller care units than the large Soviet-era institutions that existed previously.

More than 500 families have already taken in children under the fostering arrangements, but experts told IWPR that the haste with which the changes had been pushed through left some young people worse off than before.

Magda Anikashvili, a Christian Democrat politician who is deputy chair of parliament’s health and social affairs committee, said reading the article prompted her to find out more about the progress of the reform, and what impact it had had.

“I’d already heard about some of the problems mentioned in the article, and the Public Defender [Georgia’s ombudsman] partially covered them in his last report,” she said.

“Of course the bill which formed the basis of the reform went through our committee, and we proposed various amendments, but we did stress that the law delineated [only] a general approach,” Anikashvili said.

She said the bill was approved after the health ministry assured parliamentarians that new arrangements for children in care would be properly designed later on, rather than being detailed in the law itself.

“We agreed to this, but the problem is that these standards have not been worked out in any detail. We are now making a recommendation to the ministry about this,” she added.

Anikashvili said officials charged with implementing the reform had interpreted the law too literally, when the real aim was to improve life for children by taking them out of the state institutions.

“Children were certainly taken out of institutions, but we need to clarify where they were taken. In some cases the children’s social conditions got worse,” she said.

She said IWPR’s article had provided much of the impetus for reviewing the reform’s progress.

“We too have looked at specific cases, and as your article makes clear, we have certainly found positive and sadly also negative results from the reform,” she said.

The reform has won the support of the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF, whose child protection officer Aaron Greenberg emailed IWPR to say that while a lot remained to be done, Georgia was on the right track.

“The government has increased the monthly allowance for foster families caring for non-disabled children significantly. For foster families caring for children with disabilities, it is 600 laris per month. These increases are sufficient for providing foster care,” he said in the email. “However, it is important that the screening processes and trainings ensure that foster families who are not suited to the job are not employed.”

Greenberg, whose agency has been working closely with the Georgian government on these issues, said screening of foster families had been largely successful, as had efforts to reunite children with their own families.

“All of the potential risks to the child must be assessed before making a decision to reunite them – and after reunification takes place, social workers must visit these families regularly to ensure that children are indeed safe,” he said. “These systems will continue to improve over time, and much more work is needed. Problems in the childcare system existed before, and they will continue to exist as they do in all countries, including the most developed. Therefore monitoring is critical.”

Natia Kuprashvili is executive director of the Georgian Association of Regional Broadcasters. 

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