MPs vote to abolish infant care homes, bring Czech law into line with EU practice

MPs have passed a landmark proposal that would make it illegal to place children below the age of three into institutional care. In practice, this means that infant care centres (kojenecké ústavy), would cease to exist. At the same time, MPs have voted to raise state subsidies for foster parents.

For nearly a decade now, successive Czech governments have been intending to abolish infant care facilities. The beginning of their end may have come on Friday, when the Chamber of Deputies passed an amendment to current legislation on the social and legal protection of children that seeks to end their use by January 1, 2025.

The amendment received wide cross-party backing with 99 deputies out of 113 voting in favour of the bill. The strongest opposition came from Communist MPs, who stressed that the centres are often the last place where unwanted babies can find a home and that the Czech Republic has a chronic shortage of foster parents.

The bill is largely the brainchild of a group of MPs around Pirate Party Deputy Chairwoman Olga Richterová, who specialises in social policy. She defended the amendment on Czech Radio, shortly after Friday’s vote.

“In the whole of the Czech Republic, there are currently just 228 children below the age of three who are housed in infant care centres. Two-thirds are in the process of being returned to their original families.

“The reason why this group of children ended up in such facilities in the first place is mainly down to social factors, especially problems with housing.

“Just 75 children belong to the remaining one third of cases and that is a number that we can handle.”

Olga Richterová | Photo: Czech Pirate Party/Flickr,  CC BY-SA 2.0

According to Ms Richterová, several regional administrations have already successfully tackled the problem, closing down large infant care facilities and instead running smaller centres focused on seriously disabled infants.

“Our proposal counts on an exception for such children. We cannot guarantee that they would find foster families, so they could remain in institutional care.

“While it may be possible to eventually find foster parents for this group as well – and I hope we set out in this direction in the future – it would require specialised training for foster parents. The same exception also counts for large groups of siblings, to ensure they get a chance to grow up together.”

Friday also saw the lower-house vote through a rise in state subsidies for foster parents taking care of disabled children. Meanwhile, foster parents for short-time care, of whom there is a chronic shortage, would receive compensation equivalent to 1.8 times the monthly minimum salary of CZK 15,200.

If the Senate passes the amendment and it is signed into law by the president, it would mean setting out a clear deadline on an institution that has existed in the Czech lands for nearly 100 years.

The first infant care centre was opened in 1922 in Prague, during the First Republic era. The institution’s heyday was during the Communist era, when all child care facilities were state run and priority was given on ensuring parents could work.

Foster care was abolished during the 1950s and around 6,000 children were sent into infant care centres or children’s homes. During the 1970s, there were close to 3,500 children under three in infant care facilities.

Since then, the number of children in institutional care, and the number of children’s homes themselves, has been in decline. But the Czech Republic remains among the last EU countries operating state infant care centres.