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Paper

Foster care as outcome strategy of deinstitutionalization process in Croatia

abstract

Foster Care in Croatia. Republic of Croatia is relatively small and young country. The total population of Croatia is 4.437.460, and proportion of children in total population is 20%. Croatia is divided in 20 counties and Grad Zagreb, but has centralistic approach to public policies.

Foster care has in Croatia long tradition. According to official data (Butković 2005) first foster family was registered in 1902. Since the beginning of new century there is a «new interest» for foster care. Legislation governing fostering is related to national acts and plans, international standards and convention, like: Social Welfare Act, Family Law Act, Foster Care Act, Plan of deinstitutionalization and transformation of social welfare institutions and other legal entities that perform social welfare activities in Republic of Croatia 2011-2016 (2018); Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children (UN, 2009).

The purpose of foster care in Croatia (according to Foster Care Act, 2011) is to ensure placement and care for the child out of his/her birth family. Types of fostering, according to the needs of child, defined by Foster Care Act are: traditional foster care, specialized foster care, emergency/crisis foster care and occasional foster care. According to foster parents status Foster Care Act defines: non-kinship foster care and kinship foster care.

According to unofficial data concerning the proportion of children placed in public care, today, 54% are in foster families and 46% are living in institutions. Based on the Annual Statistical Report of Ministry for Health and Social Welfare (www.mspm.hr) for five year period (table 1) it could be concluded that number of children in foster care is decreasing and changing, especially when specialized foster care is concerned.

 

Tab. 1 - Number of children in foster care

 

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

Children without appropriate parental care

1.412

1.445

816

1.378

1.512

Children and young adults with behavioral disorders, mental or physical disabilities and other problems (drugs, aids)

783

535

1083

534

455

Total

2.195

2.080

1.899

1.912

1.967

 

Tab. 2 - Some characteristics of foster care in Croatia (according to Žižak, 2009)

Foster care

Foster parents

Children placed in foster care

- Foster family on average consist of 4,9 persons and 1,8 foster child

- Majority of foster families are living in their own family house (74%)

- Foster children have their own room (55%)

- In cases of foster care in extended family the licence is obtained after the child is placed

- Foster parents estimate that foster care affects their family in a good way (91%)

- Foster parents are content with the cooperation with centres for social welfare (64%)

- Financial support is mainly mentioned need (54-83%)

 

- Foster parents are mainly women (92%)

- Average age 52, married (74%), with a secondary school education (56%), housewives or retired, first foster care licence obtained at age 42, rarely employed (23%) and being foster parents on average 9,5 years

- Guided by altruistic and practical motives

- Predominance of informal support

- Mostly satisfied with family relationships, themselves and with the fact that they are foster parents

 

- Reasons for separation from family of birth: neglect by parents, disturbed family relationships, poverty

- The average age of child in the moment of placement was 7,4 years

- The average duration of children's placement in public care was 10,5 years

- In most cases, the placements were urgent (54%)

- In 73% cases brothers and sisters were not placed together

- Advantages for children: good results in psychosocial functioning, self-image, self-respect, perception of social support, less stressful life (in comparison with children living in children's homes)

- Problems were connected to poor relations with birth parents, schooling and lack of skills for future independent living

 

A few critical points that need further improvement are: uneven development of foster care in different region (for example: Dalmatia); insufficient number of foster families for specific groups of children (young children; children with emotional and behaviour problems, children with disabilities, ethnical minorities, especially Roma children); need for development of specialized/ treatment foster care; insufficient support to foster parents by social services, improvement of national data base on fostering etc.

The problem. In 2010 in Croatia the Plan of deinstitutionalization and transformation of institutions for children and youth without adequate parental care has been adopted. In accordance with this document, by 2016, the plan is to change the proportion of institutional and alternative (non-institutional) forms of care for children and youth, in favour of alternative forms (20%: 80%). Within this document special attention is given to the youngest children (0-7 years), where foster care is recognized as exit strategy from the current state of care in accordance with UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children.

Aim. Main aim of this paper is to analyze foster care for children under the age of 7 years in Croatia from foster parents' perspective. Two main research questions are focusing on finding out foster parent experience regarding specificities of foster care process and child characteristics.

Method. To establish this aim a qualitative approach was applied. Through 15 semi structured interviews with foster parents of children under the age of 7 from six different cities, data has been collected to explore some indicators of quality and challenges in the provision of foster care. The framework for data collection and analyses was based on the Croatian standards for quality of social services (from 2010) and the European standards of care for children in out-of-home care (Quality4Children). Three groups of foster parents were included in research: 1) those that care for children placed in institution prior to a foster care placement, 2) those that care for children placed directly from their birth families or hospitals (maternity wards) and 3) those that take care of pregnant mothers who continued to care for their children after birth.

Findings. Interviewed foster parents, age 30 to 59 years, mostly women (14) are taking care of 43 children, of which 31 are under the age of 7, and three young mothers with babies. All of them are living in private houses enabling good accommodation for young children. Their families are bigger than the average family in Croatia, they are mostly unemployed (9 out of 15), and have been included in foster care services, on average, for approximately 7 years (ranging from 2 month to 27 years). So, foster parents of young children are younger and with less fostering experience than average foster parent in Croatia.

Through the theoretical thematic analysis of data collected by interviews with foster parents, six main themes have been recognized: preparation for foster care, foster care process, characteristics of child life in foster family, child characteristics, support to foster parents, and specific features of foster care of youngest children. These themes enabled answering the two main research questions. In connection with the specificities of foster care process these themes are pointing to its positive, desirable and negative aspects. On the desirable side we found predominance of child placement from maternity wards to foster family over other previous forms of placement, «the whole family approach» to foster child, strong informal support to foster parents, good living conditions and ways of documenting child development. Foster parents' motivation, engagement and devotion to young children are, as well, seen as positive side. Negative aspects are connected to the fact that most placements in these foster families had been urgent, without purposeful preparation and child future planning, without education focused on early child development and care as well as unclear foster parents' status. Analyses have led to several important conclusions regarding foster child characteristics. Among others, fast health recovery after placement in foster family and normalization of all developmental processes, as well as showing importance of daily routines for young child. Since half of the children are of Roma background it was very important to find out foster parents experience regarding their contact with biological parents.

Foster parents experience has shown that fostering of pregnant minors and afterwards young mother with babies is the most complex type of fostering.

Main references

Butorac, A. (2005). Udomiteljstvo u Hrvatskoj - sustav i postojeće stanje. In: A. Brajša-Žganec, G. Keresteš and G. Kuterovac (Eds.), Udomiteljstvo: skrb o djeci izvan vlastite obitelji. Zagreb: Udruga za inicijative u socijalnoj politici. 9-15.

Plan of deinstitutionalization and transformation of social welfare institutions and other legal entities that perform social welfare activities in Republic of Croatia 2011-2016 (2018). (http://www.mspm.hr).

Quality4Children Standards for Out-of-Home Child Care in Europe. International Foster Care Organization, SOS Kinderdorf, International, FICE.

Standards of social services quality in social welfare system, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Republic of Croatia (2010). (http://www.mspm.hr).

United Nation Human Rights Council (2009). Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children. (www.unicef.org/aids/files/UN_Guidelines_for_alternative_care_of_­children.pdf).

Žižak, A. (2009). Udomiteljstvo djece u Hrvatskoj: analiza stanja i prijedlog smjernica. Zagreb: UNICEF, Office for Croatia.

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