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Public Defender says alternative care system for children still faces challenges

By Tea Mariamidze
Friday, May 17
Georgia’s Public Defender Nino Lomjaria has assessed Alternative Care System for Children in Georgia in her report and found that it does not respond to the needs in this direction.

“Identification of child victims of violence, management of complex behavior and crises, prevention of and timely response to the cases of child abuse, and psycho-social assistance remain problematic. The state does not have a systemic vision to tackle poverty and raise the social function of families. The available programs cannot meet the needs in this direction, which negatively affects the rights of children,” the report reads.

It also says that the main shortcomings in the field of child care are the lack of specialists, psychologists and social workers and their inactive engagement.

To monitor the alternative care system for children, the Public Defender's Office evaluated 43 small group houses, 128 foster families, 68 families involved in reintegration services, and 7 religious boarding schools. Also, visits were made to 64 territorial units of LEPL Social Service Agency to study the child’s needs.

As a result of the conducted monitoring, the Public Defender initiated proceedings on 45 alleged violations of children’s rights and issued four recommendations to relevant entities.

“The monitoring results made it clear that the main causes of removal of minors from their biological families into the state care continue to be a grave social/economic situation of biological families, poverty and inappropriate living conditions, neglect and violence. The shortage of state services oriented on the empowerment of families was observed again,” the report reads.

Among remaining problems were the involvement of child victims of domestic violence in rehabilitation services, a low level of awareness among foster parents about misbehavior management and prevention, lack of regular engagement of social workers with beneficiaries and others.

However, the report reads that the majority of monitored foster families provided minors with living conditions needed for their development - 94.3% of the minors were engaged in preschool or school education process, and 97.5% of them had access to primary health care.

A few problems were revealed regarding the withdrawal from the service and change of the service.

“Foster parents and social workers do not prepare minors adequately for the withdrawal from the service, be it for the transfer to another facility, return to biological families, the start of independent life, etc., "the report reads.

It also notes that when withdrawing from the service, children do not possess the skills necessary for independent living. In particular, beneficiaries, including those of full legal age, lack relevant education, do not have jobs, are not financially independent and do not have a support network while their biological families are not prepared to receive them.

The monitoring results show the failure of foster families to use positive methods of behavioral management and to provide emotional support to minors as well as the lack of adequate efforts by social workers to prevent and identify violence.

Also, a segment of minors (24.2%) spoke about physical or psychological violence from foster parents. There were instances identified of ear pulling, making them stand in the corner, hair pulling, slapping on the head, shouting and locking in the room.

The Ombudsman also found out that parents were not well aware of how to work with children who had challenging behavior or were victims of violence. In this regard, the Public Defender underlines that more training is necessary for the foster parents before they receive the beneficiaries.

The problems remaining in small family-type homes include the identification of child victims of violence, management of misbehavior and crisis, prevention of violence, timely response to them, and provision of psycho-social assistance.

“Implementation of activities tailored to the interests of children and preparation of minors for an independent living continues to be a problem. The country lacks a consistent approach to the protection and support of youth who have withdrawn from the care system,” the Ombudsman stressed.