Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
An IWPR article highlighting problems with a reform to childcare in Georgia (Georgian Childcare Reform Criticised) has provoked a parliamentary committee to start monitoring the reform’s results, and to demand the health ministry set stricter standards for foster parents.
Under the reform, Georgia is closing its residential children’s homes and rehousing the children in foster families and in small facilities that provide conditions closer to a family than the large Soviet-era institutions used hitherto.
More than 500 families have already taken in children, but several experts told IWPR that, owing to the hurried nature of the changes, the children’s conditions had often worsened as a result.
Magda Anikashvili, a deputy from the Christian Democrats party and deputy chair of parliament’s health and social affairs committee, said that reading the IWPR article had provoked her to find out for herself the progress and impact of the reform.
“Like your article makes clear, we have definitely found both positive and, sadly, also negative results from the reform,” Anikashvili said.
“Of course, the bill which formed the basis of the reform passed through our committee, and we proposed various amendments. ”
She said that the health ministry had assured deputies that the precise circumstances of children’s care would be better worked out later, rather than described in the law in detail.
“We agreed to this, but the [problems outlined in the IWPR article have] been caused by the fact that these standards have not been worked out in detail. We are now giving a recommendation to the ministry on this subject,” Anikashvili said, pointing out that IWPR’s article had been a particular impetus.
She said that officials had interpreted the law too literally. It was intended to end the state’s reliance on residential institutions, in order to improve the children’s conditions, but had not always done so.
“Children were definitely taken out of the institutions, but we need to clarify where they were taken. In some cases, the children’s social conditions worsened,” she said.
The government has won the support of the United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, however, with its children protection officer Aaron Greenberg emailing IWPR to say that a lot remained to be done but that Georgia is on the right path.
“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, however, it is important that the screening processes and trainings ensure that foster families who are not suited to the job are not employed,” he said.
UNICEF has been working closely with the Georgian government on this issue, and said the screening of foster families had been largely successful.
“The same is true for children who are reunified with their biological families. All of the potential risks to the child must be assessed before making a decision to reunify – 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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