The position of the UCRN on the observance of children’s rights in the process of reforming sanatorium boarding schools
Members of the Ukrainian Child Rights Network are deeply concerned that in 2020 an active process of preserving sanatorium boarding schools began due to a formal change in the type of institutions, with mandatory retention of boarding houses. Thus, sanatorium boarding schools are kept as institutions of all-day stay of children (or institutional care). This preserves the system of institutional care as a whole, and on the ground leads to negative consequences for children.
Numerous studies and monitoring visits conducted by the UCRN, its members, as well as the VRU Commissioner for Human Rights prove that most sanatorium boarding schools have neither modern medicine nor an adequate level of education:
- according to the standard regulations, sanatorium schools are allowed to stay for up to one year, and only in extreme cases can this period be extended. According to the results of the audit, more than 40% of children are in sanatorium boarding schools from three to ten years;
- there is also a shortage of qualified medical staff in sanatorium boarding schools – out of five sanatorium boarding schools for children with non-specific diseases of the digestive system, only one institution has a gastroenterologist. There are no neurologists in sanatorium boarding schools for children with psychoneurological diseases, and cardiologists do not work in sanatorium boarding schools for children with diseases of the cardiovascular system. It is significant that 43% of the total staff of such institutions are service personnel.
In addition, violations of children’s rights were recorded in these institutions, in particular:
- the right to respect for private and family life, established by Article 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Article 32 of the Constitution of Ukraine;
- the right to liberty and security of person (established by Article 5 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Article 29 of the Constitution of Ukraine. The standard of observance of this right is accommodation and stay of pupils in compliance with the grounds established by law;
- the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing, housing, is established in Article 48 of the Constitution of Ukraine, Article 8 of the Law of Ukraine “On Child Protection” and is provided with appropriate living conditions.
At the same time, from the point of view of the social aspect, sanatorium schools play an extremely negative role in the processes of deinstitutionalization and decentralization:
- in order to preserve the contingent of children, the facts of non-fulfillment of parents ‘duties are hidden (non-existent visits of parents to the institution are recorded, children’s services are not informed about parents’ evasion of their responsibilities, them on weekends and holidays, are not interested in their lives, do not keep). This makes it impossible to form a proper evidence base in the courts on the deprivation of parental rights;
- as in other boarding schools, there are many cases of obstacles in establishing contact between orphans, children deprived of parental care, and foster parents during placement in family care;
- institutions actually recruit children by touring districts and villages and offering their services, disseminating information through village councils and medical institutions, and establish diagnoses for children according to an established “scheme” according to the type of institution. This can be easily verified by analyzing the number of family groups of children in the institution with the same diagnosis, as well as the territorial affiliation of the child to the boarding school (the vast majority of children are residents of the same village, district, or neighboring areas);
- village councils often take the opportunity to place children from vulnerable families in a sanatorium school instead of providing support to their families. Thus, in the conditions of decentralization, the development of social capacity and responsibility of communities for their children is inhibited.
The state spends billions of hryvnias on boarding schools. However, the vast majority of these funds do not go to the needs of children, but to the maintenance of buildings and staff salaries.
We, the Ukrainian Child Rights Network:
- demand to stop the process of rescuing inefficient, costly institutions;
- support the initiative of the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine to increase the number of social work specialists in communities. This will strengthen work with children and families to prevent orphanhood and identify families where there is a threat to the life and health of the child;
- support all those who work consistently and persistently to ensure the child’s right to be raised in a family;
- we call on all socially responsible deputies of the Verkhovna Rada not to make, initiate or support any changes to the Law regarding the further functioning of sanatorium schools (sanatorium boarding schools), as these actions are not aimed at the benefit of the child, but only for the convenience of adults;
- recommend that regional administrations and regional councils prepare plans to close sanatorium schools and focus on studying the needs of communities and families to which children from boarding schools have been returned.
We, the Ukrainian Child Rights Network, will closely monitor the situation and inform the public. We continue to conduct family monitoring visits to which children have been returned from boarding schools during quarantine to find out the real reasons for the institutionalization of children in Ukraine and to provide assistance to children and families. This approach is guided by the best interests of the child and allows you to develop effective measures to support children and families.