ENIL has on many occasions raised concerns about the process of deinstitutionalisation which consists of moving disabled people from institutions into group homes (also referred to as ‘family-type’ homes). This often results in replicating institutional culture in the community, rather than independent living. The case below, concerning young disabled people in Romania, demonstrates how deinstituionalisation can easily turn into reinstitutionalisation without adequate support and real opportunities for disabled people to live independently in the community.
On 14 July, several online publications published disturbing footage showing a disabled child being tied up with a rope to a door handle in the courtyard of a social care home in Bucharest. According to statements by persons living in a nearby apartment building who witnessed his plight, the boy had been left tied up for hours in the blazing Bucharest midsummer heat, behind the wall surrounding the perimeter of the facility.
Several investigations were started following the ensuing public uproar. It surfaced that the incident took place in a “family-type home” that had been recently built as part of a national child deinstitutionalisation programme spearheaded by the NGO Hope and Homes for Children Romania (HHC Romania) in collaboration with state authorities. A major component of the programme, “family-type homes” are facilities based in the community that are supposed to accommodate 10-12 children, particularly disabled. The home where the incident took place was part of a larger complex of social services, at the heart of the community, which also included administrative offices where many people went to work daily.
In a public statement, HHC Romania maintained that it handed over the home to local authorities after having built it and declined to take any responsibility for the incident. In a different statement, HHC Romania, through its president, Mr. Ştefan Dărăbuș, expressed surprise at what had happened, mentioning that it monitored the home regularly, but had only noticed minor problems such as children being allowed to watch TV for a long time.
The Ombudsman, who visited the home in the aftermath of the incident and published a detailed report with his findings on 7 September 2015, found extensive irregularities at the home. The child who had been tied up was deaf and had a four-year old diagnosis of severe intellectual disability, autism and epilepsy. However, the Ombudsman expressed doubts about the accuracy of the diagnosis after all that time and noted that the child had never received any “behavioural support” or education. Staff did not appear to understand the nature of his medical condition and were not able to communicate with him. The Ombudsman found another child tied down at the time of his visit, based on an open-ended medical authorisation issued more than four years before. Staff stated that the child had been tied down regularly although the reason for that was not immediately apparent. In fact, the Ombudsman found major shortcomings with the manner in which incidents of restraint were being recorded, which was done irregularly on loose sheets of paper.
There were more general criticisms too. According to the report, there were two homes at the location in question, accommodating 11 children with “severe” disabilities and 10 children with “moderate” disabilities respectively. The Ombudsman remarked among others that medical supervision was sporadic, and access to treatment difficult, that children should not have been separated based on the seriousness of their diagnosis, and the absence of any therapeutic or occupational therapies, even though the facility was meant to develop independent living skills. Finally, the report mentioned that staff involved in the incident of restraint had been dismissed and that a criminal investigation had been started.
Written by Constantin Cojocariu