Before the full-scale invasion by Russia in February, 2022, Ukraine had one of the highest rates of child institutionalization in Europe. A significant percentage of these children – probably the majority – have disabilities. Institutionalization has been proven to be inherently harmful for all children, but babies and children with disabilities are at the highest risk of harm.
Moreover, since the war began, institutionalized children have been at a heightened risk of various forms of harm compared with their peers raised in families. In addition, the hardships caused by war – internal displacement and seeking refugee abroad; loss of property; loss of income; trauma; increase in single-headed households; increase in acquired disability due to war-related injuries, inter alia – considerably raises the risk of family separation. Greater pressure on already stretched social and community services is, therefore, likely to lead to increased institutionalization of children.
These factors have highlighted the need to prioritize transforming the systems of care, health and education for children, even during this time of war. The Ukrainian government should be congratulated for treating this as a priority and moving forward the development of plans to transform the system of care.
During April and May 2023, the Ukrainian Ministry of Social Policy joined forces with a broad range of civil society actors to facilitate five days of learning and intensive strategic planning on deinstitutionalization. These planning days aimed to:
- Identify and learn from best practices, as well as from challenges, in care transformation, learning from the experience of government and civil society experts from Ukraine and other European countries
- Apply those learnings to the current situation in Ukraine, to outline a roadmap to achieve comprehensive, high-quality, sustainable care transformation, delivered at scale; and
- Identify and develop action plans to address the most pressing immediate priorities for children at the highest risk of harm, in the context of the war.
This document presents the key findings and recommendations from those five days of exchange of ideas and strategic planning. It is hoped that these recommendations will inform the government’s strategic planning process, as well as providing insight for donors to inform their priorities. It was the express wish of all participants that this should be the ‘final push’ to achieve complete care transformation – and end the institutionalization of children in Ukraine for good.