Ending the Placement of Children Under Three in Institutions: Report from the International Ministerial Conference, Sofia, November 2012


The ministerial conference ‘Ending the placement of children under three in institutions: Support nurturing families for all young children’, which took place in Sofia (Bulgaria) on 21 and 22 November 2012, helped to articulate a strong political commitment to continuing and accelerating work in the area of child care reform, especially towards:
• reducing the number of infants abandoned at birth
• reducing the number of children below three years old deprived of parental care and placed in institutional care
• increasing the number of children with disabilities maintained within their families.

The ultimate vision is to ensure that every child below three years old grows up in a nurturing family environment, because all children need to get the best possible start in life. The vision was announced at the European Parliament in July 2011, when UNICEF and the Office of the United  Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights launched a call to action to end the placement of children under three in institutions and prevent the separation of children from their families.

Held under the patronage of Rosen Plevneliev, President of the Republic of Bulgaria, the conference brought together 250 top-level governmental representatives across various sectors – social, health, education, labour, employment and family ministries – from 24 countries across Eastern Europe and Central Asia as well as high-level international experts. 

Twenty governments from Eastern Europe and Central Asia made public statements at the conference regarding their current and future efforts in child care reform. The commitments made and the high level of representation at the conference reflect the momentum and importance that the policy objective of securing a nurturing family environment for every child has gained in the region over a number of years. For some countries, this objective is now reaching a high level of priority.

The report from the conference includes a Follow-up Monitoring Board from March 2013, which provides an overview of the scope of the commitments made by governments at the Sofia conference. The intention is to update the board on a quarterly basis, both to enable monitoring of progress and to engage UNICEF country offices in discussion about additional/new contexts as well as opportunities and threats in realising the commitments made.