Czech Republic to abolish infant homes by 2013

The Czech government plans to abolish all of the country’s infant homes where babies under the age of three are placed if they are considered at risk or their families cannot take care of them. Some 2,000 infants spent time in these homes last year – but beginning in January 2013, the government wants to place babies in individual foster care. Most experts have welcomed the idea but many warn that much needs to be improved in the foster care system before infant homes can be abolished. Radio Prague spoke to Petra Vrtbovská, the head of the NGO NATAMA which helps to find foster parents for children at risk.

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“I think it’s high time to do this. Baby homes or infant homes don’t exist in any developed countries at all, and placing babies under the age of three in institutional care is usually prohibited by law. So I think the Czech Republic should do this as soon as possible.”

What do the authorities need to do to prepare for placing babies in individual foster care?

“That’s a difficult question because if we are not going to place babies in institutions we need well-trained, well-prepared foster carers who must be professionals so that they will not confuse real, biological parenting with fostering babies who will either go back to their families or will be later adopted. That’s hard work.

“In our organization that I’ve been running for some nine years now, we have experience with training professional foster carers; it’s a difficult job and unfortunately, the Czech Republic does not have much experience with it.”

Petra Vrtbovská
So do you think there will be enough time to prepare for the abolition of infant homes? The ministry wants to abolish them by January 2013, in some 16 months’ time…

“It’s a difficult task but I think that a year and a half should be enough if they start working on it right now. But that’s difficult because the law has to be changed first. But I think that it should be manageable to train enough people within that time.”

Some NGOs have expressed concern that not enough people will be interested in becoming foster care providers; they argue that Czechs seemed to be prejudiced against babies who need foster care, as many of them are Romanies. Do you think these worries are justified?

“Well, our NGO has been training professional foster carers and we have experience with hiring people who don’t want to substitute biological parents, and that’s very different.

“The Czech society has for a long time been placing kids in adoptive fostering and that’s confusing for Czechs now. People need to be informed that professional fostering is very different; babies are placed in families who are not going to bring them up until they are adults. They might be there only temporarily, for two months and so on. They create a family environment for the baby but the baby then goes somewhere else.

“And I’m absolutely positive that well-prepared, well-paid and supervised people here will be just as good foster parents as anyone else.”