Children of difficult divorces are increasingly institutionalised

The daily Mladá fronta Dnes on Friday published the story of an 11-year-old boy who was confined to a psychiatric ward for six months after the court found his mother unfit to care for him and he refused to see his father. For most of that time, he was allowed to see his mother for only an hour a week and was kept in harsh institutional conditions despite the fact that he is completely healthy mentally and physically. What’s more, Alan is not the only child in the country who has been institutionalised because of his parents’ problems. There may in fact be dozens of such cases, and parents whose children have been involuntarily institutionalised are now preparing a lawsuit against the state. Earlier today I spoke with Klára Trubačová, who heads the child protection office of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, who told Radio Prague more about the case of Alan and the general problem in the Czech Republic that it points to.

“The problem was that Alan’s mother and father had a difficult relationship, and the social workers decided to place him in an institution, because they consider it neutral environment for him in which they can assess his situation and decide if he wants contact with his father or not.”

And his mother was in fact an unsuitable provider?

“No, she was a suitable provider, that’s the problem. The father asked the local authorities what they could do for him. But the situation was so difficult that the social workers decided to put the child in an institution, but we don’t know why.”

Are there other children in similar situations in the Czech Republic and do we have any idea how many?

“We don’t have exact statistics. We know that the total number of children placed in institutions, but we do not follow the reasons why. We know that the main reasons are social reasons like poverty, economic reasons, or behavioural problems. But I can say that there is a growing number of children being placed in these kinds of neutral environments because some experts say the child’s situation should be observed from another perspective without the influence of the parents, which is nonsense.”

What do you believe needs to be changed in what way to improve this situation?

“We think that the first step, which we are undertaking now, is to change the legislation, and we hope that in the future it will not be allowed to place these children in institutions, for example children who are younger than three years. This practice should be abandoned.”

What can be done for children in cases unlike Alan’s where the mother for example truly is incapable of caring for the child and the child for whatever reason cannot be with the father?

“We really need to have a network of specialised services for such cases, like prevention services, direct work with families where experts come into the families and help them to cope with their situation, not place the child somewhere else and see what happens.”