An informal meeting took place in Brussels on December 6th 2012 between the UN High Commissioner of Humans Rights and the European Expert Group on the Transition from Institutional to Community-based Care. ENIL – European Network on Independent Living, is included in this expert group along with representatives from other European Networks and organizations including COFACE, Eurochild, EASPD, EDF, European Social Network, Inclusion Europe, Mental Health Europe and LUMOS, all working to transform the lives of disadvantaged children. LUMOS in cooperation with UNICEF and OHCHR has supported the recent work for the production of the Common European Guidelines on the Transition from Institutional to Community-base Care. These are for guidance on implementing and supporting a sustained transition from institutional care to family-based and community-based alternatives for children, persons with disability, persons with mental health problems and older persons in Europe.
Jan Jarab, OHCHR and Co-chair of the expert group welcomed Navanethem Pillay, the appointed Human Rights High Commissioner to open the informal meeting. Each organization had a chance to describe their work, with Jamie Bolling presenting ENIL to the High Commissioner.
The High Commissioner stated that she was proud that her organization was co-chairing this group and thanked everyone for their cooperation. She spoke of the need to put standards out into society so they can be respected and referred to the right to vote for people with intellectual disability as one example. She explained that the power of her office gives the commissioner the mandate to go public with people’s experiences and to challenge countries to respect human rights.
Jan Jarab brought forward the denial and lack of attention to issues in the field. He pointed out that when there are crimes within social services they are not recognized as breeches to human rights but rather as bad practice. This was one of the issues taken up in the first publication of the expert group entitled Forgotten Europeans Forgotten Rights. He proclaimed the group proud, having tied the narratives of the different target groups together through the experiences of people made known by the expert group members.
The High Commissioner asked how she could contribute to the work. Luc Zelderloo from EASPD the other co-chair of the expert group claimed that the group’s work is not for shaming and blaming but for cooperation on the transition to community living from institutions. He communicated on the behalf of the group that a letter of endorsement for the guidelines could serve to raise their status and wondered if the High Commissioner’s office could assist in the dissemination.
One main request was to bring attention to the effects of the austerity measures and highlight how they are contributing to a backlash in community living with a rise in re-institutionalization. The group also considered it important that the European Fundamental Rights Agency has a stronger mandate for its work.
It was also stressed that the EU needs to be more consistent on issues in relation to the wellbeing of the child so that all documents and policy are coherent. Myths need to be dispelled. Institutions are assumed to be care but are not. Orphans are thought not to have parents but often they have families who are suffering from poverty and have no means to care for the children. Even what is said to be in the best interest of the child can be a myth.
Jamie Bolling – December 7th, 2012