More children in Czech orphanages as fostering applications fall sharply

Photo: Myriam Zilles, Pixabay

The number of applications to foster children in the Czech Republic has seen a dramatic decrease. Meanwhile, the number of children being sent to orphanages is on the rise. The government has approved a new amendment that would increase state support for foster parents. However, NGOs say it is too little to reverse the trend.

Photo: Jana Káninská,  ČRo

More than a thousand children are sent to orphanages in the Czech Republic every year, a quarter of them under the age of four.

But life in such a home provides nowhere near the emotional support that a child can receive in a foster family, says Magdaléna Zemanová, the spokeswoman for the Association of Surrogate Families (Asociace náhradních rodin), a Czech NGO made up of foster and adoptive parents.

“In an orphanage the lady that takes care of the child goes home after her shift is over, whereas in a foster care family the child has its own ‘home’. It can share all of its concerns and the foster parents help. Therefore, the social skills of a child who reaches adulthood after growing up in a foster family are massive compared to one who grew up in an orphanage.”

From the early to mid-2010s, the number of children in Czech orphanages declined from 7,878 in 2010 to 6,345 in 2018. However, over the past two years, this number has started rising again. At the same time, since 2013, foster care applications have gone down by no less than two thirds, according to Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs statistics.

Illustrative photo: Jana Zemková,  Czech Radio

Ms Zemanová, who is fostering five children with her husband, says a lot changed in 2013, when an amendment to the Act on the Social and Legal Protection of Children came into effect. It made foster care more professional, but also far harder.

“It is no longer sufficient today to apply and just want to bring up the child. One has to contact the biological family and take the children on prison visits. Both foster parents have to take courses, which can be difficult for the husband, for example, as he has to take leave off work to do so.

“This is not necessarily wrong per se. However, with so many extra familial visits and tasks it is not a completely normal childhood. I think that for a lot of families who are considering sending an application for foster care it is simply too much.”

Photo: Štěpánka Budková

Those families who do foster children receive a financial contribution from the state. However, this is below the minimum wage and, according to Ms Zemanová, is too low to have an effect on many families. Furthermore, children with disabilities or minority backgrounds are rarely selected for extra-institutional care, she says.

The current government has proposed a new amendment to the legislation, which has been sent to the Chamber of Deputies. However, the Child and Family Association, which is made up of 83 organizations operating in the field of care for vulnerable children, criticised the amendment in an open letter in June.

It included five counter proposals. Among them, the setting of a minimum age limit for children who are sent to orphanages as well as raising financial contributions so they are equal to the minimum wage.

However, the biggest problem, says Ms Zemanová, is the often insensitive bureaucratic state control over foster care under which foster families are not sufficiently consulted and problems arise that could be avoided through a more inclusive process.