All children have the right to be protected
Eurochild letter to the Heads of EU Institutions
The war in Ukraine is having devastating consequences on children including grave violations of children’s rights. To date over 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine including 1.5 million children. In all conflicts children are the most vulnerable and with high levels of population movements children are highly susceptible to the risks of trafficking and exploitation. The situation is even worse for children already in a vulnerable position such as those living in institutional care, and children with disabilities.
Eurochild members are providing their first hand experiences to convey the difficulties children are facing.
In Poland ensuring children have temporary guardians for support is covered by a new law, the Act on Assistance for Ukrainian Citizens but its implementation in practice is leaving many children without adequate guardianship. A reception centre ‘Hub’ has been set up in Stalowa Wola in Podkarpackie Province for Ukrainian children who were cared for in all alternative care and institutional care settings in Ukraine. The Hub is designed to ensure all children arriving in that area are registered, to provide a temporary solution for children to stay. However, the Polish Foster Care Coalition is reporting that given the location of the Hub not all children in need are being registered or are able to travel to the location. This results in vulnerable children not receiving adequate support and an absence of information and tracking regarding children in need. Where children are placed in alternative care it is challenging to find premises to host the substantial number of children coming from institutions in Ukraine leading to sub-standard care arrangements with a lack of professional capacity to take care of these children.
In Slovakia there is an absence of capacity in the national foster care system, as reported by Civic Association Return (Navrat). Ukrainian children in need are being placed in residential settings. Prospective foster families are not prepared to take on foster children, much less children fleeing conflict. There is also a lack of professionals who can monitor these placements, leaving children in vulnerable situations due to the absence of protection measures.
Bulgaria is facing a massive increase in refugee numbers, including children, which is proving challenging. The National Network for Children Bulgaria (NNC) has been cooperating with the multiagency structure coordinating the refugee response in Bulgaria that is proving effective. There have been difficulties in ensuring children who are accompanied by guardians are able to stay together (such as with sports teams or a parent looking after their own children and the children of others). Bulgaria was automatically placing the individual children into residential care but now the State Agency for Child Protection (SACP) is ensuring that children should stay together, with the guardian they arrived with. Bulgaria continues to face difficulties in ensuring families are able to receive direct financial support and more funding from the EU is needed in this regard.
Romania is also receiving groups of children from orphanages in Ukraine though in far fewer numbers than Poland. The government is placing these children into dedicated residential care facilities and not with families, in order to keep the children together. The Ministry of Family recently issued a statement to the Ukrainian Embassy that Romania does not intend to allow Ukrainian children to be adopted. It says that “children will be safe with Romania and will then be returned to Ukraine.”
The difficulties children are facing from this conflict are not exclusive to those that have crossed borders, there are millions of internally displaced people, including children still in Ukraine. Eurochild’s Ukrainian member Polina Klykova is emphasising the need for ensuring support for children being evacuated from their homes as they will miss their friends, family members, and the structures around them.
A key issue at this stage of the conflict is ensuring accurate and adequate information is kept about every child. Hope and Homes for Children EU Office have reported that Protection Clusters established in neighbouring countries are playing an important role in bringing together stakeholders working on the ground. However, there is an urgent need for a tracking system at a cross-border level to prevent children from going missing and/or becoming victims of child trafficking and to maintain oversight over the care they are receiving.
The impact of conflict on children is immense and urgently requires greater attention and action to ensure the rights of children are protected at all times.
Now that the conflict is entering its fourth week it is imperative action is taken to ensure the human rights of all children are protected. The current situation of the Temporary Protection Directive appears to be working effectively to ensure people fleeing Ukraine are able to access state and social services. However, it is far from clear that all children are being adequately supported. At times children are not being adequately registered upon arrival and standards of care/support are proving inadequate for their needs.