In November 2017, the Romania Without Orphans Alliance (ARFO) published its annual report on the condition of children living in Romania's child welfare system. An English-language version came out in January.
The 24-page report—beautifully designed with photos, charts, data, and analysis—provides a devastating look at the state's care for parentless children. We're quite proud of this body of work as a reflection on ARFO, which we helped found, and which our supporters have helped fund.
The full report is available online (and you should read it!), but here are eight quick takeaways.
1. Child abandonment is an ongoing and serious problem.
Although Romania's population is declining, the number of children entering its child welfare system has stayed steady at around 10,000 per year. ARFO uses government data to show that it's not just poor areas driving this problem. The capital counties of Bucharest-Ilfov made the top-10 list for both numbers of children in the system and for percentage of children in institutions. One sector of Bucharest had an alarming 59% of children in its system housed in institutions.
2. Most children who enter the system remain there until adulthood.
Of the 10,000 children abandoned each year, around 6,000 will stay in state care. "On paper, Romania’s Child Protection System offers a child temporary intervention until they are reintegrated into their biological family, or placed in an adoptive family," ARFO president Liviu Mihaileanu writes. "In reality, this 'temporary intervention' usually lasts until they become an adult."
3. Adoptions are all too rare.
In 2016, only 788 children were adopted in Romania—a mere 1.3% of children in the system. This was the second-lowest number on record since at least 2000, but numbers are abysmal across the board. ARFO cites an anti-adoption bias from many state workers, who look askance at the practice of putting children in legal placement with families who want to adopt them.
4. Even when families are available, the state keeps children in orphanages.
State workers often view children in orphanages as "solved cases," with no further intervention or family placement needed. Sometimes they actively fight the removal of children from institutions. The ARFO report contains a firsthand account from one NGO worker who requested to take a child from an orphanage into placement. Not only was she denied, but her NGO's work at the orphanage was threatened.
A 2016 law requires the government to declare abandoned children legally adoptable after 6-12 months, depending on circumstances. Yet this law is simply being ignored by case managers. Over a year later, only 1.5% of the children in Romania's institutions have been declared adoptable.
"Case managers usually work for the same local government agency that is receiving funds to house the children," ARFO notes. "Therefore, one may conclude that such a practice is intentional to secure staff and funding." ARFO calls for legal sanctions against workers who fail to carry out the law, and who misinform and intimidate families seeking to remove children from institutions.
5. Children suffer from moves within the system.
ARFO decries the trauma of moving children in state care from place to place. They are especially concerned about the practice of placing children in foster families until age 3, then moving them to orphanages. Under Romanian law, no child under 3 may be placed in an institution, so the government often "rotates out" children when they get older. ARFO recommends a ban on moving a child from family care to an institution, except in exceptional circumstances.
6. The state has no minimum standards governing family placement.
The government was supposed to publish standards in 2012 for family placement, the practice where children are placed with an unpaid foster family or birth relatives. Five years later, there are still no standards. Failing to evaluate and oversee children placed with birth relatives is dangerously negligent. ARFO recommends that the state create minimum standards as quickly as possible.
7. The state holds charities to strict standards its own agencies don't meet.
The report notes: "While NGOs are not permitted to function in Romania without a license, only 17% of public social services are licensed. The rest function without meeting the minimum standards that all NGOs must meet to provide the same services." ARFO decries the state's monopoly over child welfare, where NGOs' contracts can be canceled at will. The report calls for greater cooperation between the state and charities.
8. A number of positive developments have laid the groundwork for change.
It's not all bad news. First, the number of families certified to adopt is rising (currently over 2,600 families), indicating a growing interest in adoption. Second, the state has developed a list of "hard-to-place" children, allowing prospective families to view their profiles, which humanizes the process and encourages adoption of hard-to-place children. Third, the growing number of adoptions to Romanians abroad could provide the foundation for re-opening intercountry adoption. With real reforms, Romania could do much better for its children.
Want more? Read the full report right here.
Support the work of ARFO by giving to our "Romania Without Orphans" fund.